Robert McChesney and John Nichols

Robert McChesney and John Nichols

Diag­nos­ing America’s jour­nal­ism cri­sis has become some­thing of a cot­tage indus­try for media pun­dits, foun­da­tions and schol­ars —espe­cial­ly since the finan­cial cri­sis in 2008 accel­er­at­ed the demise of the news­pa­per indus­try, trig­ger­ing round after round of lay­offs and a steady death knell of shut­tered news­rooms.

And it’s not just news­pa­pers strug­gling to sur­vive: the Wash­ing­ton Post Com­pa­ny put Newsweek up for sale in ear­ly May, more proof the for-prof­it busi­ness mod­els that have long sup­port­ed Amer­i­can print pub­li­ca­tions are with­er­ing into obsolescence.

As many small towns adapt to life with­out news­pa­pers, the cho­rus of con­cerned cit­i­zens clam­or­ing for action is grow­ing loud­er. But what, exact­ly, can and should be done to save and sus­tain real report­ing? The most rad­i­cal cri­tiques of America’s media sys­tem have long been com­ing from the pro­lif­ic pens of Robert McCh­es­ney and John Nichols, who have co-authored four books on the subject. 

Their lat­est, The Death and Life of Amer­i­can Jour­nal­ism, offers a brisk eulo­gy for the cor­po­rate media sys­tem, a dis­missal of the Internet’s pow­er to revive it, and a call for what they see as a return to gov­ern­ment-sup­port­ed U.S. media. The stakes for Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy are too high to leave to a free mar­ket” that no longer wants to invest in jour­nal­ism, McCh­es­ney and Nichols argue. If Amer­i­cans real­ly want pub­lic-inter­est jour­nal­ism to sur­vive in the 21st cen­tu­ry, they must finan­cial­ly sup­port it — to the tune of $35 bil­lion annu­al­ly, which they note is close to what some Euro­pean nations spend on media sub­si­dies on a per capi­ta basis.

I caught up with McCh­es­ney and Nichols — a Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Cham­paign pro­fes­sor and Wash­ing­ton D.C. cor­re­spon­dent for The Nation, respec­tive­ly — in Chica­go a few months after their book was pub­lished in Jan­u­ary 2010, just before they spoke to a packed DePaul Uni­ver­si­ty audi­to­ri­um about what must be done to deal with journalism’s crisis. 

In These Times Web Editor/​Associate Edi­tor Jere­my Gantz

In The Death and Life of Amer­i­can Jour­nal­ism, you chal­lenge the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom of blam­ing the Inter­net for killing off news­pa­pers and print media. How and why does the cri­sis pre­date the ascent of the Internet?

McCh­es­ney: The lay­offs of jour­nal­ists, the clos­ing of [news] bureaus, the declin­ing qual­i­ty of jour­nal­ism all pre­date Google, even the World Wide Web. They go back to the 70s. Fun­da­men­tal­ly, it can be attrib­uted to increas­ing con­glom­er­ate cor­po­rate chain own­er­ship and non-com­pet­i­tive mar­kets, which made it very prof­itable to gut news­rooms and make more mon­ey by low­er­ing your costs and gut any con­se­quences in the marketplace. 

And this was hid­den from peo­ple until very recent­ly because the prof­its were boom­ing for these com­pa­nies and in Amer­i­ca we say if someone’s mak­ing a lot of mon­ey they must know what they’re doing, they must be doing some­thing right, when in fact they were just strip­ping it for parts. 

But I would add this, the impor­tant argu­ment of our book is that the entire com­mer­cial sys­tem of jour­nal­ism was an anom­aly in some respects, because it was pred­i­cat­ed on this enor­mous amount of adver­tis­ing to sub­si­dize it. And that era of adver­tis­ing pro­vid­ing 60 to 100 per­cent of the rev­enues to sup­port jour­nal­ism, and make it a com­mer­cial­ly viable area, that is in the process of declin­ing, if not ending. 

Nichols: The rise of the Inter­net in com­bi­na­tion with a seri­ous turn in our econ­o­my has accel­er­at­ed trends that a lot of the big cor­po­ra­tions thought that they could ride out or at least ride down gra­cious­ly. And they can’t. And the real­i­ty is that now they’re in cri­sis, and they took so much debt to buy these insti­tu­tions, buy these news­pa­pers and oth­er out­lets, that they’re in a ter­ri­ble mess… 

They can­not afford to sus­tain their debt, they made a bad busi­ness deci­sion, and now rather than accept that they made some bad deci­sions and gut it out, do what tra­di­tion­al­ly busi­ness­es might have done, they’re just say­ing oh we know how to save some mon­ey, we’ll get rid of jour­nal­ism.’ … But to blame the Inter­net or to even to blame the econ­o­my, would be like blam­ing the per­son who has a lot of fun­da­men­tal health prob­lems and then dies of pneu­mo­nia at the end; the fun­da­men­tal health prob­lems were there long before the ail­ment came.

Why have the respons­es or sup­posed solu­tions to journalism’s cri­sis up until now been inad­e­quate, and why do you think they will con­tin­ue to be inadequate?

Nichols: What we say in the book is that there are two types of folks who still think they have the answer. One is old-media fan­ta­sists. We still once in awhile run into some­body who says, Oh well, adver­tis­ing is going to come back,’ they lit­er­al­ly aren’t buy­ing into the real­i­ty. And then [there are] new-media fab­u­lists who think that it’s just a mat­ter of time before every­thing comes togeth­er. … The new media fab­u­lists are still kind of in the game, and they ped­dle about every six months some the­o­ry on how things are going to go. 

What’s weird about it is that an idea will crash and burn, and we’ll all think, Oh we buried it, it’s dead.’ And then it will come back. The clas­sic is pay-walls. They tried pay walls awhile back and it was a com­plete fail­ure and every­body said well this is the stu­pid­est thing ever done, it crashed and burned and now Rupert Murdoch’s brought it back. And the New York Times is say­ing next year they’re going to start doing some sort of pay-to-read sce­nario. But the truth is that these are such ridicu­lous approaches. 

On the pay walls, they’re at war with the basic con­cept of the Inter­net. … [A pay wall] denies the log­ic of plat­form, but more impor­tant­ly and per­haps more dan­ger­ous­ly is, it is insert­ing a hor­ri­ble class bias into our com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Because if the only qual­i­ty com­mu­ni­ca­tions … can only be accessed by peo­ple who can pay for it on the Inter­net, right off the bat you’re knock­ing out tens of mil­lions of peo­ple that don’t even have any kind of real­is­tic Inter­net access. 54 per­cent of rur­al Amer­i­cans at this point don’t have broad­band, 36 per­cent of Amer­i­cans gen­er­al­ly. And so there’s a real cri­sis there of who you cut out of the sys­tem, and then if you’re say­ing online, well you’ve got to pay for it, again you’re cut­ting peo­ple out. 

Your most rad­i­cal idea is respond­ing to the cri­sis with gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies or tax-sup­port­ed gov­ern­ment pro­grams to make sure jour­nal­ists keep work­ing and more are hired. Why should Amer­i­cans not be afraid of gov­ern­ment action to sup­port and reju­ve­nate news organizations?

McCh­es­ney: They should just look at the real his­to­ry and the real evi­dence. I think most Amer­i­cans make two false assump­tions, and I did too when I was raised and before I stud­ied it. One is that Amer­i­ca has always had a free mar­ket press sys­tem where there’s been no sub­si­dies at all, and two, that gov­ern­ments that do have sub­si­dies of jour­nal­ism invari­ably become like Stalin’s Prav­da or Pol Pot’s Cam­bo­dia. And if you held those two beliefs as true, then the idea of using gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies would be an anath­e­ma. But as we chron­i­cle in detail in the book– even nau­se­at­ing, exhaus­tive detail…

Nichols: Actu­al­ly I think it’s in bril­liant, and high­ly enjoy­able, detail.

McCh­es­ney: Very read­able chapter.

Nichols: Like a Har­ry Pot­ter book.

McCh­es­ney: Swashbuckler.

Nichols: Swash­buck­ling tale!

McCh­es­ney: Of dar­ing do.

Nichols: A page-turner.

McCh­es­ney: Star­ring Tom­my Jef­fer­son and Jim­my Madi­son as our heroes, like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn…

As we chron­i­cle, in the Amer­i­can press sys­tem in the pre-adver­tis­ing years, the first hun­dred years of Amer­i­can his­to­ry, there was no illu­sion or no belief by any­one – it was unthink­able – that the pri­vate sec­tor could pro­vide all the jour­nal­ism we’d want, we just had to unleash them to make mon­ey. That was not even remote­ly thought, real­ly, until the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tu­ry in the Unit­ed States. And we insti­tut­ed enor­mous press sub­si­dies – print­ing and postal sub­si­dies which we chron­i­cle in the book – which our entire press sys­tem was built upon, it gave us this very rich, diverse set of voic­es that wouldn’t have exist­ed oth­er­wise, it was the basis of our democracy. 

So that’s the real Amer­i­can his­to­ry. And once we under­stand that, we look at, Gee, how did they do that so that you didn’t have cen­sor­ship, how did they do that to encour­age dis­sent, not to squash it?’ When you look at it you see that actu­al­ly you can have poli­cies that are real­ly pro­gres­sive, that don’t favor one polit­i­cal view­point over anoth­er but raise them all, and let peo­ple con­trol the qual­i­ty of media, but give them the resources to do it so they’re effective. 

The response of peo­ple when they learn the actu­al real his­to­ry of Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism is like, Wow, that is real­ly amaz­ing, I had no idea.’ And in fact it becomes even more strik­ing when you read the Supreme Court deci­sions on the First Amend­ment and free­dom of the press, every sin­gle one says the first duty of the gov­ern­ment is to make sure you have the inde­pen­dent, cred­i­ble fourth estate, oth­er­wise the Con­sti­tu­tion can’t work. The gov­ern­ment has to make sure it exists. Now that the market’s not doing it, that means it’s back to square one.

The oth­er half of that is sim­ply that the idea that if you have gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies, invari­ably you end up with Prav­da or Pol Pot’s Cam­bo­dia. Our argu­ment is we’re look­ing at the wrong coun­tries. Those real­ly aren’t the rel­e­vant coun­tries to com­pare to the Unit­ed States. Why don’t we look at the coun­tries that are sim­i­lar to us eco­nom­i­cal­ly, sim­i­lar to us polit­i­cal­ly, have sim­i­lar free­doms and lib­er­ties and con­sti­tu­tions like us? So why don’t we look at Cana­da, Britain, Ger­many, France, Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries, Switzer­land, Japan, South Korea, even India? And what we find of all those coun­tries, with­out excep­tion, they have huge press and pub­lic media sub­si­dies — and com­pared to the Unit­ed States, enor­mous ones. And what was real­ly strik­ing in our research is that the coun­tries with the very largest press sub­si­dies … are ranked by The Econ­o­mist mag­a­zine as being the most demo­c­ra­t­ic nations in the world, way ahead of the U.S.

And the coun­tries with the largest press sub­si­dies, nation­al gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies to sup­port jour­nal­ism or pub­lic media, are regard­ed by Free­dom House as hav­ing the most flour­ish­ing, uncen­sored pri­vate media in the world, so they’re not contradictory. 

Nichols: Just to add to it, I’ve been doing jour­nal­ism since I was 11 years old. I start­ed get­ting paid on my week­ly news­pa­per when I was eleven. I have run major metro dai­ly news­rooms. … If I thought for one sec­ond that what we’re propos­ing posed even the most min­i­mal threat to the abil­i­ty of a sin­gle jour­nal­ist to do his or her job, I would lead the oppo­si­tion to it…passionately. …

Any­body who’s been pay­ing atten­tion knows that their lives are shaped far more today by cor­po­ra­tions than they are by gov­ern­ment. And if the gov­ern­ment is an exten­sion of us, if we shape our gov­ern­ment, if our tax­es and our votes shape our gov­ern­ment, I’d much rather have the gov­ern­ment in there. In a con­tent neu­tral, jour­nal­ism sus­tain­ing way, I’d much rather have the gov­ern­ment in there mak­ing sure that every­body has access to infor­ma­tion, rather than leav­ing it to some, at this point, fan­ta­sy of a free-mar­ket solution.


That deliv­ers me to my next ques­tion. We’ve seen how dif­fi­cult it was for the cur­rent Con­gress to deliv­er any real action on health­care reform, and how polar­iz­ing and per­sis­tent gov­ern­ment takeover” rhetoric is. What have you heard from peo­ple cur­rent­ly in office about the government’s role in deal­ing with the jour­nal­ism crisis? 

McCh­es­ney: Well, it’s an issue that’s very much in flux. A year ago, when the ini­tial wave news­pa­per clos­ings and lay­offs real­ly hit, and the prof­its were plum­met­ing, it became a big news sto­ry. At that point both the House and Sen­ate each called con­gres­sion­al hear­ings to dis­cuss it, and John Nichols tes­ti­fied at the house hear­ing. But the tenor of those hear­ings was very much like, Here’s a cri­sis, I don’t know if there’s any­thing we can do about it but it’s so impor­tant we aught to talk about it.’ 

But what we’ve seen in the last year has real­ly been a sea change in the under­stand­ing of the cri­sis and I think it’s real­ly moved much in the direc­tion of what we write in the book, which is an under­stand­ing that the core com­mer­cial sys­tem of jour­nal­ism is fail­ing and that it’s not com­ing back. … And I think we’ve got­ten to a point in Wash­ing­ton now where the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion and the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion both have explic­it study groups work­ing on the cri­sis of journalism. …

And so I think there’s a much more real­is­tic under­stand­ing of the depth of the cri­sis and that it’s going to require gov­ern­ment involve­ment. Now we’re still at the very begin­ning of this process – what that gov­ern­ment involve­ment is, is still a sen­si­tive issue. But I think it’s under­stood there’s going to be gov­ern­ment involvement. …

Nichols: Let me offer one oth­er notion too – one of the great chal­lenges here is not mere­ly con­gres­sion­al buy-in, because any­body who fol­lows pol­i­tics knows that Con­gress and the fed­er­al bureau­cra­cy doesn’t respond unless it’s get­ting pres­sure from some­place. Now, clear­ly, there are old media com­pa­nies and some play­ers that [have pres­sured] gov­ern­ment to do things that will con­tin­ue to ben­e­fit them. I mean, obvi­ous­ly the government’s high­ly involved already. These are the people’s air­waves and yet they’re pret­ty well col­o­nized by big media com­pa­nies. So there’s going to be a lot of fight here, this is going to be a long-term strug­gle. But clear­ly break­throughs are being made in this cri­sis moment. … The oth­er thing that we’re doing right now is going out to the con­stituen­cies that we think actu­al­ly care about jour­nal­ism. In April I [spoke] to the Amer­i­can Soci­ety of News­pa­per Edi­tors. The notion that our ideas would be seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered by what’s real­ly a very cau­tious group is a big deal.

They usu­al­ly would nev­er enter­tain gov­ern­ment intervention.

Nichols: I’m not sure they’re going to. I don’t know if they’ll give me a stand­ing ova­tion. … [W]hat’s hap­pen­ing is that in this cri­sis moment there is an open­ing on the part of core con­stituen­cies for a dia­logue both inside the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment struc­tures but also at the edges of them among the peo­ple whose voic­es are often heard.


How do you respond to Chris Hedges’ arti­cle in Truthdig in Feb­ru­ary, which said basi­cal­ly, the cri­sis of jour­nal­ism isn’t just a finan­cial and eco­nom­ic cri­sis, it’s also a cul­tur­al cri­sis – peo­ple don’t val­ue jour­nal­ism any­more, and there­fore wouldn’t want to pay for it. Do you think that’s not true?

McCh­es­ney: We love Chris. I trea­sure his cri­tique, but I think he has a very pes­simistic view of our species at this point in time, espe­cial­ly the Amer­i­can vari­ant of our species. And I think if you have that atti­tude it becomes a self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy. You can find exam­ples of everyone’s life where – oh that per­son real­ly is a moron, they’re watch­ing Jer­ry Springer, they’re going to wrestling, they’re lis­ten­ing to loud music, they’re inca­pable of ratio­nal thought, and it’s hope­less. The forces of dark­ness have over­whelmed the forces of lit­er­a­cy, and rea­son, and light, and all the good things. And I think Chris can find that, that’s some­thing he demon­strates [in his 2009 book Empire of Illusion]…the end of literacy.

But I mean I would say in my view, and I think human beings are far more com­plex than that, and I’m sure he would reject that as a sim­plis­tic view. But I would say that – maybe com­plex isn’t the right term – but rather that some­one can watch the Jer­ry Springer show or go to a wrestling match, and also be con­cerned about the qual­i­ty of their life and their com­mu­ni­ty. That it’s not like there’s one road or the oth­er, and if you go down the Jer­ry Springer road you’re hope­less­ly lost to any sort of sane life. 

I think most Amer­i­cans aren’t even in that grim sce­nario where they don’t real­ly care at all. Most Amer­i­cans do care. They’ll say give me the infor­ma­tion that’s real­ly good and I’ll start pay­ing more atten­tion. I think my expe­ri­ence is that the peo­ple in this coun­try des­per­ate­ly care but they’ve felt powerless. …

Nichols: What Chris says is some­thing that we’ve heard at every event we’ve done. At every sin­gle event we’ve done. And so this is the inter­est­ing thing: Peo­ple who will rouse them­selves from their life, from watch­ing what­ev­er on tele­vi­sion to come to a pub­lic event, will say You know, I care. But I don’t think those folks out there care.” And I think in a sense that’s what Chris is say­ing. Chris cares very deeply, but he’s start­ing to have his doubts about whether the folks out there care. 

Our expe­ri­ence is, that is a very com­mon cri­sis on the left right now. Right? We have a lot of pro­gres­sives who real­ly are very frus­trat­ed with Oba­ma, they’re see­ing the Tea Par­ty get all the atten­tion in a failed media sys­tem that loves a Tea Par­ty, and they’re start­ing to feel like wow, it’s just, this is over­whelm­ing. But what we’re try­ing to do is sort of bridge that and say look, you know if you came to this event, if you care enough to still rouse your­self and come, there’s hope. I mean, we can build from that. Every­thing that ever hap­pened in this coun­try was built through peo­ple gath­er­ing in a room and say­ing I care, I object. 

And the oth­er thing too is that … an awful lot of Amer­i­cans who will not con­sume the New York Review of Books, or even The Nation —or heav­en for­bid In These Times! — still are glad that it’s there, and that’s some­thing real­ly, real­ly vital. That the watch­dog role of jour­nal­ism func­tions in a way that soci­ety val­ues very, very deeply even if soci­ety doesn’t con­sume every arti­cle, every day. So, when we start to under­stand jour­nal­ism as a pub­lic good, it is a nec­es­sary part of this demo­c­ra­t­ic expe­ri­ence. Not every­body has to con­sume every bit of it for peo­ple to under­stand that it is absolute­ly vital. And that if we lose it, what do we have? What’s our sit­u­a­tion? 24 – 7 com­mu­ni­ca­tions – we’re not going to be with­out infor­ma­tion, we’re not going to be with­out bells and whis­tles. We’re going to have 24 – 7 com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­duced by pow­er. And pow­er will tell us what to buy, what to think, and how to vote. 

McCh­es­ney: It’ll be pub­lic rela­tions pri­mar­i­ly. What we’re see­ing in Amer­i­can news today – I hes­i­tate to use the term jour­nal­ism, because that still has some dig­ni­ty attached to it – is that the ratio of reporters to pub­lic rela­tions peo­ple, or pub­lic rela­tions peo­ple to reporters, which used to be 1:1, the his­tor­i­cal ratio in the mid­dle twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, grad­u­al­ly nudged up to 1.2 pub­lic rela­tions peo­ple to one jour­nal­ist in 1980. Today it’s 4:1. There are four peo­ple try­ing to doc­tor the news … to rep­re­sent the inter­ests of their cor­po­rate or gov­ern­ment pay­mas­ter, to get a sto­ry to look like legit­i­mate news, for every work­ing jour­nal­ist try­ing to cov­er the news. 

It’s a com­plete mis­match and at cur­rent rates of change in decline in jour­nal­ists and increase of pub­lic rela­tions employ­ment, we’re look­ing at a like­li­hood of a ratio of 7:1 or 8:1 in a few years.


So let’s say noth­ing you sug­gest in the book is done dur­ing the next 10 or 20 years, what do you see our jour­nal­ism land­scape look­ing like?

McCh­es­ney: It’s not even that long. This isn’t glob­al warm­ing where we can wait anoth­er gen­er­a­tion before we lose the coastal areas. We’re los­ing our coastal areas right now.

Nichols: On tour [McCh­es­ney and I] do some­thing we don’t always do, which is watch­ing cable tele­vi­sion. … While we were tour­ing Tiger Woods was going on and on about being a Bud­dhist. The Greek econ­o­my is col­laps­ing, poten­tial­ly tak­ing down the Euro and ulti­mate­ly the dol­lar, and it’s like, But we don’t have time for that because of Tiger Woods.’

So, where are we head­ed? We’re head­ed to where we’re at right now, on steroids. And that is that, there will be a point ten years from now – if we do not inter­vene – where any ratio­nal per­son will look back and say I wish for the glo­ry days, I wish for those won­der­ful days when we got all that great cov­er­age of OJ Simp­son, and Brit­ney Spears, and Tiger Woods. Because as bad as things are now, it will be so much worse, and the ugli­est part of it is, in that moment it will be high­ly pack­aged with anchors and pret­ty peo­ple telling us so. 

But the one place where we will take that final drop, if you will, off the cliff is that you will see our seri­ous polit­i­cal and gov­ern­men­tal cov­er­age move over and be com­plete­ly pro­duced for the elites. It will be like the Wall Street Jour­nal for investors, and pol­i­tics will be an investor sport, the real polit­i­cal life. And there will be an elite media that serves them at a very high cost, but for the rest of us it will be a spec­ta­tor sport and all that we will do is watch as every deci­sion about whether our chil­dren are sent to die in wars, whether we have jobs, whether our com­mu­ni­ties live or die, will be made at such a far reach from us that it will be what we learn about after it has happened. 

It’s a night­mar­ish sce­nario, it is absolute­ly Orwellian. In fact, we say that if Orwell could look at the cur­rent cir­cum­stance, he’d scrap 1984. He’d say, I used to think the scary thing was Big Broth­er was watch­ing you, but the scary thing is you’ll be watch­ing Big Brother.’

What would you say – if you can boil it down to one sen­tence – to some­one who’s young and grown up on the Inter­net with this para­dox of hav­ing this huge amount of free infor­ma­tion – why should they pay through their tax­es for what you’re talk­ing about?

McCh­es­ney: Just hav­ing some­thing that is data — bits and bytes — doesn’t make it jour­nal­ism. Jour­nal­ism – cov­er­age of the world with pub­lic affairs – requires skilled paid labor, com­pet­ing news­rooms, requires factcheck­ers, proof­read­ers, copy edi­tors, qual­i­ty con­tent. That doesn’t come for free. Jour­nal­ism is manda­to­ry for self-gov­ern­ment to work. There’s no way around it, no mat­ter how many bits and bytes you have of mate­r­i­al you can wade through about any sub­ject – that doesn’t answer the jour­nal­ism issue. That requires actu­al journalists.


My last ques­tion is more per­son­al. You guys have writ­ten four books togeth­er now. How does the process work?

McCh­es­ney: John does all the writ­ing and I put my name on it.

Nichols: Peo­ple think it’s odd to col­lab­o­rate. … But I will tell you that my favorite part about it is the occa­sion­al review that says, oh wow, we’ve got this kind of work­ing jour­nal­ist, scrap­py jour­nal­ist, and this high falutin’ aca­d­e­m­ic. And then they’ll quote some line from the book, and they’ll say well there’s a very well writ­ten line, that must be by Nichols. And in fact it will invari­ably be a line that Bob put in. 

The truth of the mat­ter is that we’ve been work­ing togeth­er for a very long time, and you get a rel­a­tive­ly seam­less web, a lot of shared ideas. We’re bring­ing two sides to this, as you’ve seen in the inter­view. I’ve done jour­nal­ism for a very long time, in very prac­ti­cal ways. Bob has too, he’s run pub­li­ca­tions and done things, but he is an aca­d­e­m­ic and a bril­liant researcher. … Ulti­mate­ly, when you’re try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple, your core goal is not mere­ly to give a bunch of facts, it’s to make a human sto­ry. What we’ve writ­ten in this book is a very human sto­ry of a cri­sis in our democ­ra­cy. We’re not writ­ing a his­to­ry of the cri­sis, we’re writ­ing a call to action.

This inter­view was edit­ed for clar­i­ty and concision.

—May 182010

John Nichols is The Nations Wash­ing­ton D.C. cor­re­spon­dent and the asso­ciate edi­tor for the Cap­i­tal Times in Madi­son, Wisc. His arti­cles have appeared in many newspapers.

Robert W. McCh­es­ney is a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Cham­paign and a for­mer edi­tor of Month­ly Review. He is the author of many books, includ­ing Rich Media, Poor Democ­ra­cy: Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Pol­i­tics in Dubi­ous Times. He hosts Media Mat­ters on WILL-AM radio.

McCh­es­ney and Nichols have co-authored the books It’s the Media, Stu­pid! (Sev­en Sto­ries), Our Media, Not Theirs (Sev­en Sto­ries), Tragedy and Farce: How the Amer­i­can Media Sell Wars, Spin Elec­tions, and Destroy Democ­ra­cy (The New Press) and, most recent­ly, The Death and Life of Amer­i­can Jour­nal­ism (Nation Books). McCh­es­ney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation’s media-reform network.
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