We'll Be Like Everywhere Else

Eric Alterman has an in-depth piece in The New Yorker on the now-inevitable decline and fall of the American newspaper. I don't disagree with a thing Alterman says in the piece, but for whatever reason I can never muster the level of angst that it's apparently necessary to have to qualify as a really serious media person in America. To me, the most important thing to keep in mind about the transformation of the American media is here:

The transformation of newspapers from enterprises devoted to objective reporting to a cluster of communities, each engaged in its own kind of “news”––and each with its own set of “truths” upon which to base debate and discussion––will mean the loss of a single national narrative and agreed-upon set of “facts” by which to conduct our politics. News will become increasingly “red” or “blue.” This is not utterly new. Before Adolph Ochs took over the Times, in 1896, and issued his famous “without fear or favor” declaration, the American scene was dominated by brazenly partisan newspapers. And the news cultures of many European nations long ago embraced the notion of competing narratives for different political communities, with individual newspapers reflecting the views of each faction. It may not be entirely coincidental that these nations enjoy a level of political engagement that dwarfs that of the United States.

The Lippmanite newspaper has always been a phenomenon that was pretty sharply bounded both in time and in place, and I just see no particular reason to think that the United States in the second half of the twentieth century constituted a transcendent ideal of incomparable awesomeness. The future will be different; more like the past, or like present-day Europe, but it's not as if modern-day Britain (or Spain or Denmark or whatever) somehow fails to function as a society or a democracy. People will probably be happier with the media product they consume, and certainly the internet makes it possible for those who are interested to become far better-informed than anyone was fifteen or twenty years ago.

But if you want more hand-wringing, rather than less, Farhad Manjoo's new book True Enough is the place to go to get it.