Nicholas Lemann on the Journalism Crisis

29 10 2009

nicholaslemannphoto_p233_crop“Journalism isn’t going away,” says Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, in an interesting interview with Spiegel Online. “But it is reconstituting itself in a pretty fundamental way.”

You would expect some optimism from someone in Lemann’s position, and he doesn’t disappoint. Confronted with plunging circulation figures among major dailies, he says, “Newspapers may have found the bottom.”

“Metro newspapers in the United States are probably not going to disappear entirely. But they’ve almost all shrunk. That doesn’t mean they’ll go away or won’t continue to be the dominant news provider in their communities.”

Spiegel frequently alludes to the recent report by Columbia Professor Michael Schudsonand Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of the Washington Post, “The Reconstruction of American Journalism.” But it returns, naturally enough, to questions about the Balloon Boy coverage and its implications for the future of journalism.

“This is something I found a little frustrating. If you have a pure market-based journalism system, then stories like Balloon Boy will inevitably rise to the top. [!] The reason is that there are pure market forces at work, and this is what people apparently want. So if you say on the one hand that public support for journalism is unthinkable and that journalism must live entirely in the market system, but then on the other hand you reject the results as worthless, that puts us in a bind.”

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