Paul Starr at The Changing Dynamics of Public Controversies

Paul Starr delivered the first presentation at the conference I organized last weekend. The title was “Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a new Era of Corruption)”. I don’t have to offer a rough summary of his presentation, since the New Republic has published the written version of it right here.

– – – update on the following discussion – – –

A few points that came up after Starr’s presentation:

Newspapers and journalism?

To what extend (and how) should one distinquish between the social role of ‘newpapers’ and ‘journalism’ and particular newspapers and journalists? Several people pointed out that a contributing factor to the current crisis in the news industry, and hence in the profession, is the expansion of several major conglomerates and chains in the 1980s-2000s, usually on the basis of borrowed money. Those loans are now weighing the companies down, and the ‘rationalizations’ made in those chains have often served to undermine the idealized forms of journalism that people often refer to when they praise its role and value.

Beyond journalism?

To what extend can the proliferation of ‘journalistic auxiliaries’ and other organs of transparency (both private, like the Sunlight Foundation, and public, like ombudsmen and various oversight and record-keeping offices) counterweight the decline of the traditional newspaper? If the expensive thing is to produce the news, and we keep in mind old communications-research findings suggesting that sources to a large extend make the news, these kinds of organizations should be able to continue to keep an eye on untoward things, and produce content that various new and surviving old media organizations can then disseminate.

Public/publics?

People also disagreed on the state of, and value of, the national public (inadvertent of not) that the mass media system that was ripe in the 1970s maintained. Some argued that this public had always been composed of a multitude of audiences and issues, some underlined that even if it wasn’t, it would be in the future, some maintained (like Elihu Katz has done) that there was a national public, it was a by-product of the mass media system, it had important beneficial sideeffects, and it is going away.

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