By Val Reynoso
In The Enduring Debate, Paul Starr and James Fallows argue on whether or not the news media has declined given the rise of the Digital Age and the impact that this evolution of news has on readers’ access to new information, exposure to government corruption and how newspapers serve as an intermediary that addresses the needs of the people and the wants of the government.
In Starr’s “Goodbye to the New Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New era of Corruption),” he explicates that news media is an invaluable source to society, that the news industry has declined with the rise of the internet and that only a few major newspapers are likely to survive the digital transition.
On the other hand, in Fallows’ “How to save the news,” he states that Google strives to revive the news media through digitization and advertisements. Furthermore, I completely agree with Starr and agree with Fallows with the exception of his argument that the news industry is not dying. Paul Starr argues that there is no going back to how the news media used to be and that the independent news media will have to adapt to the new, digital world of news if they yearn to continue to hold the government accountable and succeed in doing so. He also states that numerous local news stations are vulnerable to political pressure given their dependence on state government funding and as a result, are unlikely to survive in the decline of local news coverage in states.
Starr suggests that if the press wants to be independent of political control, it can no longer rely on government sponsoring because then the press will inevitably serve the interests of the elites who fund them; independent news media can find other means of funding such as through private non-profit organizations—which has been increasingly used in contemporary journalism.
On the other hand, James Fallows argues that contrary to the popular belief that Google is decimating the news industry, bringing it back to life is the true intention Google has because it considers the survival of journalism vital to its own anticipations. He states that Google emphasizes unbundling news—separating all parts of the paper to cater to the specific interests of readers—and that there is also a faddishness of coverage that is prominent in digital news media, where one story is paramount and hence covered by several sources and is a redundancy that the news industry can no longer afford.
Starr sees the rise of the internet as being detrimental to the news media whereas Fallows believes the rise of the internet is necessary to ensure the survival of it. Both Starr’s and Fallows’ arguments on the future of the news industry are centered on the popularization of the Web and the impact it has on the content of the news and on how readers consume it. Starr believes that the decline of newspapers due to the Web is a threat to democracy because newspapers were able to expose government corruption in a way that no other industries nor sources could. He believes we are entering a “new age of corruption” because the rise of the internet will undermine the news industry and hence independent news stations must find means to sustain themselves that are not reliant on government funding even though many stations will not survive the transition. However, Fallows does not see the rise of the Web as a threat to the news media given that Google strives to ensure the survival of journalism in order to secure its own interests—especially with the rise of Google News in 2002, which sparked Google’s first serious interactions with news organizations.
Fallows also does not believe that the news industry is coming to an end because when the news business is digitized, readers will gain pay for news subscriptions and news corporations will be able to gain capital from online display ads; Fallows believes that the means through which news businesses profit off of papers is what will change, in contrast to Starr’s argument that we are entering a “new age of corruption” in which the content of digitized papers will reflect corporate interests and agendas as opposed to the truth.
I agree with Starr on newspapers being an invaluable tool for uncovering truths on government corruption, that we are in a new era of corruption, and that the death of newspapers will make media more corporate. As Starr, I also believe that once news is digitized, it will highly likely be corporatized especially given the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which resulted in 90 percent of all media being owned by six major corporations (News-Corp, Viacom, Disney, Time Warner, GE, CBS). I am also in accordance with Starr’s view that corporatized mainstream media has less of an authoritative voice given that it has a tendency of concealing truths about wars, corporate corruption and politicians that our government does not want us to know—hence paving the way for the “new era of corruption.”
The news serves as an intermediary between it and the people so if the government hides particular information from the majority of news that is controlled by mainstream media, there will not be nearly as much about the government for average citizens to be enraged about. Corporate media also has a tendency of being politically biased—for example, Fox News caters more to right-wingers and CNN caters more to Democrats and moderates. Despite the dissimilar biases, corporate media also tends to provide what Prior describes as “mind-numbing entertainment” in “News vs Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge and Turnout” to distract the masses from real issues in contemporary US society and foreign relations of the US.
For instance, Hillary Clinton’s emails could dominate Fox News for most of the day and something outrageous that Donald Trump said could make the breaking news of MSNBC. In page 331 of “News vs Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge and Turnout,” Prior explicates that gaps in political knowledge are a product of personal preference and that many people voluntarily seek entertainment as opposed to news; “The preference based gaps documented in this article are self-imposed as many people abandon the news for entertainment simply because they like it better. Inequality in political knowledge and turnout increases as a result of voluntary consumption decisions.”
Although I agree with Starr that we are entering a “new era of corruption,” those few individuals who seek the truth will find it even after the news industry is digitized through independent, investigative, and non-corporate news stations such as The Intercept. Like Prior, I also believe that those who prioritize entertainment over politics do so because they want to and are unlikely to be drawn to political news unless they choose to change their preferences later on.
Furthermore, I also agree with Fallows on digital news having a trend of fads although unbundling news in order to cater to the specific interests of people; however, I disagree with Fallows on newspapers not dying because local newspapers and other independent papers are unlikely to survive the transition to the Web. Along with the corporatizing of digital news, the trend of fads makes mainstream media even less truthful and caters more to those who seek entertainment as opposed to stories that expose government corruption.
Additionally, people will be able to consume news that are specific to their interests with more ease with the unbundling of news in the Web. I believe that newspapers are dying because many independent news stations that are not funded by the government or owned by major corporations and hyperlocalized newspapers will not be able to survive the transition to the internet given that they do not have the resources and popularization to do so; mostly well-known newspapers will be able to survive the digital transition because they do have the resources for it.
However, digital media and Google still do serve as platforms for independent media that managed to survive the transition and those who seek them will still gain truthful information from them. Even through digital media, those who have no political interest will still be likely to overlook coverage on politics although they could still encounter news media through social media such as Facebook where articles are often shared and posted.
As marked by both Starr and Fallows, the assimilation of the news industry into the digital world is virtually inevitable especially given the developments of new technology. Both authors argued the positives and negatives of said transition of news although the former did not see any foreshadowed benefits whereas the latter felt that the digitization was necessary to ensure the survival of news. The decline of newspapers through the rise of the Web was fruitful to the corporations that managed to dominate the news industry and served as a loss to consumers who are now receiving corporatized news that will not show them the whole truth they likely seek.
Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.