Hunger Strike

June 4, 2009 • Media Economics • by

Die Furche, May 28, 2009

In his latest book, American media activist Robert McChesney envisions a dark future for American newsgathering.

The author devises a U.S. government demanding “the reduction of international reporting, the closing of local editorial departments and trimming of employees and budgets.” In addition, McChesney’s president commands the media to focus on “celebrities and trivia instead of the serious investigation of scandals and law violations in the White House.”

In this somber tale, journalism professors and communication scholars embark on a hunger strike, with entire universities closing in protest. According to the author, “In reality, if monopolistic commercial interests lead to the same scenario and leave our society culturally impoverished, it evokes only the slightest protest…”

The polemic McChesney illustrates deserves recognition, however his book addresses the wrong audience and reveals a poor grasp of economics.  Indisputably, journalism’s “good old days” were damaged by media enterprises and the aggressive pursuit of commercial interests.  The Internet’s triumphant advance saw such enterprises losing lucrative monopolies in the advertising market, and with intensified competition, journalism finds itself without financing.

In reality, a hunger strike is not likely to occur, but if the tactic were employed the public would be first to suffer.  Or, more accurately, citizens who expect free, first-rate journalism, avoiding intelligent news to focus on shallow nonsense, exercising a “civic right to rational ignorance” would hurt most.

In Switzerland, two of several free newspapers recently disappeared from the market. Over in the States, Rupert Murdoch (of all people), the most powerful media mogul in the world, announced that his papers will begin to charge for online content in the future.  It’s only a matter of time before we realize independent, valuable journalism can’t be enjoyed for free, forever.

Translation by Karin Eberhardt

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