Eric Alterman’s New Yorker Feature Critical, if Sobering, Newspapers Overview

Ink-in-the-veins journalism types – or is it anachronisms? – may shed a well-deserved tear in reading liberal City University of New York journalism professor Eric Alterman’s “Out of Print: The death and life of the American newspaper” in the March 31, 2008, issue of The New Yorker.

For climate scientists wanting to keep up with the latest goings-on in the newspaper business, it might make for sobering, but certainly worthwhile, reading.

From Benjamin Harris’s single-issue run of Publick Occurrences: Both Foreign and Domestic in 1690 in Massachusetts …

… to James Franklin’s 1721 birthing of the New England Courant

… to Bill Keller at today’s New York Times, News Corporation’s Rupert Murdock at Dow Jones & Co. and The Wall Street Journal and Arianna Huffington at the online “Huffington Post” …

Alterman, a columnist for The Nation and author of “What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News,” serves up a highly readable and concise overview of what ails today’s newspaper business.

Quoting the Times‘s Keller, he writes of the “serendipitous encounters that are hard to replicate in the quicker, reader-driven format of a web site.”

“Newspapers have helped to define the meaning of America to its citizens,” he writes nostalgically. “We need to consider what will become of those people, both at home and abroad, who depend on such journalistic enterprises to keep them safe from various forms of torture, oppression, and injustice.”

Alterman – whose most recent book is “Why We’re Liberals – A Political Handbook to Post-Bush America” – wraps up by quoting veteran war photojournalist George Guthrie from Tom Stoppard’s 1978 play about foreign correspondents: “People do awful things to each other. But it’s worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark.”

“Just how an Internet-based news culture can spread that kind of ‘light’ that is necessary to prevent terrible things, without the armies of reporters that newspapers have traditionally employed, is a question that even the most ardent democrat in John Dewey’s tradition may not wish to see answered.”

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