New Republic on the Age of Newspapers

Paul Starr, a US academic, has an excellent and very thorough piece at the New Republic, entitled “Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New Era of Corruption)”. It isn’t a new thesis – others have outlined a similar view – but it is well put. Starr summarises it thus: “News coverage is not all that newspapers have given us. They have lent the public a powerful means of leverage over the state, and this leverage is now at risk. If we take seriously the notion of newspapers as a fourth estate or a fourth branch of government, the end of the age of newspapers implies a change in our political system itself.” Very thorough; and not just applicable to the US, or indeed to politics. Starr, by the way, is Stuart professor of communications and public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

The editors of the New Republic also sum up their views in this editorial – “MSM, RIP“. (If you don’t know what MSM stands for you aren’t reading enough blogs). It is a cri de coeur for old media non-partisan coverage of politics: “Even the press’s fiercest critics have been forced to acknowledge and fear its findings–an authority that will never exist in a world consisting entirely of partisan outlets.”

A few observations:

  1. My goodness it is hard to read things like this onscreen. You really do need the magazine. I wouldn’t want it on a Kindle either: this is perfect for reading on a plane or train, or over lunch at the desk.
  2. The coverage of politics is probably only one of the socio-political changes that we will see with the end of newspapers; this theme isn’t worked out yet. Newspapers are quintessential products of the growth of cities and modern politics, from the late eighteenth to mid-twentieth century.
  3. Magazines still seem to have their role; and TNR is quite smart about continuing to exploit that. Its centrist position has at times seemed to imperil it, and I have once or twice wondered if it would survive; and yet it moves.

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