aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Monday, March 31, 2008
Alterman on newspapers: Dewey gets his due
Eric Alterman’s The death and life of the American newspaper in The New Yorker includes a terrific telling of the heated intellectual debate in the early twentieth century between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey over the relationship between democracy and the press.
In the 1920s Lippman came to believe that the world was too complicated a place for the average citizen to comprehend. His new “progressive” theory of democracy called for an educated elite expert journalist to comprehend and interpret it for us. Lippman is credited with inspiring both the public-relations profession and the academic field of media studies.
Dewey understood that it was a complicated and challenging world, but thought that participation was a vitally important part of the democratic process. He didn’t believe it could be handed off to journalist experts:
Dewey did not dispute Lippmann’s contention regarding journalism’s flaws or the public’s vulnerability to manipulation. But Dewey thought that Lippmann’s cure was worse than the disease. While Lippmann viewed public opinion as little more than the sum of the views of each individual, much like a poll, Dewey saw it more like a focus group. The foundation of democracy to Dewey was less information than conversation. Members of a democratic society needed to cultivate what the journalism scholar James W. Carey, in describing the debate, called “certain vital habits” of democracy-the ability to discuss, deliberate on, and debate various perspectives in a manner that would move it toward consensus. [...]
To the degree that posterity can be said to have declared a winner in this argument, the future turned out much closer to Lippmann’s ideal… As the profession grew more sophisticated and respected, in part owing to Lippmann’s example, top reporters, anchors, and editors naturally rose in status to the point where some came to be considered the social equals of the senators, Cabinet secretaries, and C.E.O.s they reported on. Just as naturally, these same reporters and editors sometimes came to identify with their subjects, rather than with their readers, as Dewey had predicted. Aside from biennial elections featuring smaller and smaller portions of the electorate, politics increasingly became a business for professionals and a spectator sport for the great unwashed-much as Lippmann had hoped and Dewey had feared. Beyond the publication of the occasional letter to the editor, the role of the reader was defined as purely passive.
Some of us have been remembering that Dewey/Lippmann divide for decades. And we’re not all worrying that the decline of the corporate behemoth media means anything bad for democracy.
While Alterman does a fine job of summing up the state of the newspaper today, he’s not telling the story of the death of the American newspaper. New communications paradigms don’t eclipse old paradigms. Instead we get new business models. And a bigger pie.
Still, I’m hoping Alterman’s right. And Dewey’s finally going to get his due:
And so we are about to enter a fractured, chaotic world of news, characterized by superior community conversation but a decidedly diminished level of first-rate journalism. The transformation of newspapers from enterprises devoted to objective reporting to a cluster of communities, each engaged in its own kind of “news"â€“â€“and each with its own set of “truths” upon which to base debate and discussionâ€“â€“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.
Alterman’s on Colbert tonight. Don’t miss him.
Keep predatory lenders off college campuses!
I made my nephew sit through this story from ABC News about a student who used a Visa card with a $500 limit to charge her $350 tuition. Unfortunately, the card had an additional $100 origination fee and a $10.95 monthly maintenance fee so instead of enrolling in school the student wound up with a job to pay off her credit card bills.
In the story a former bank employee says the boss called cardholders “the scum of earth,” “lowlifes” and “deadbeats.” I paused the video after an industry spokesperson, President of American Financial Services Association Chris Stinebert, justified such fees by saying, “We firmly believe that everyone should be well-informed” and “it seems fair to me...”
My nephew pleaded, “Uncle Joey I haven’t had my coffee yet.”
And therein lies the problem. He doesn’t want to watch that story. He wants me to take care of it for him. And, really, isn’t that only fair and just?
On Friday the Chronicle reported on a study that found students want limits placed on credit card marketing:
Although many college students have plastic in their wallets, most support at least some limits on credit-card marketing, according to a new survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. [...]
Among the survey’s other findings:
- Students reported receiving an average of nearly five credit-card solicitations per month.
- Sixty-six percent of students said they had at least one credit card, while 34 percent said they carried a balance from month-to-month.
- Fifty-five percent of students with credit cards said they had used them to pay for day-to-day expenses, and 24 percent said they had used credit cards to pay for tuition.
Information about the survey is available on the group’s Web site.
To those of you who say that my nephew should grow up, my answer is that the research shows all of us would benefit from learning what the marketers already know: when we make decisions we think we’re in control, making rational choices. But in reality we’re much more predictably irrational than we ever realized.
Those college students are on to something smart. More on that in a future post.
Creative Labs not very creative IP solution!
Apparently, many users have been upset that Creative has failed to support certain systems, and a user in the Creative Labs’ forums started releasing drivers to make things actually work or work better. Creative struck back and has removed the various threads in their forums discussing these drivers (thanks to Joe [not me] for sending in the link). Basically, this user, Daniel_K was making Creative products work better, and Creative has forced him to stop, claiming that it’s violating their intellectual property rights. From a legal standpoint, Creative is probably absolutely right. But from a business perspective, the move seems suicidal. Just read a few of the comments in the long thread following the announcement from Creative. Many people were buying Creative products because of Daniel’s mods, and will now look elsewhere. This seems like yet another case of IP laws being used to hold back innovation, rather than encourage it.
And a company choosing to alienate its best customers, rather than build brand loyalty!