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Eric Alterman Headshot

Think Again: Good Journalism Is Not Free, and Somebody's Got to Pay for It

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If money is the "mother's milk" of politics then media must be its baby food. To some conservatives the media are just another way to make money. Television was "just another household appliance, a toaster with a picture," as Ronald Reagan's appointed head of the Federal Communications Commission, Mark Fowler, famously described it.

More ideologically inclined right-wingers have used media as a means of movement building--one that liberals have sought to emulate. But liberals and progressives see another side of media as well. A genuinely diverse and democratic media based in communities of both concern and geography has the power to inform people of facts and evidence and enable them to form a powerful public voice to stand up to monied and other powerful interests.

John Dewey and Walter Lippmann disagreed on a great deal in their famous debate over the value and purpose of media in the formation of "public opinion" during the 1920s. But neither one doubted its importance in terms of giving everyday people the opportunity both to track their leaders' actions and to form their own views on issues in conjunction with the other members of their communities, however defined.

Groups like Free Press, the Media Access Project, the Center for American Progress, and the New America Foundation, together with, have already done a good job helping to publicize--and organize--on behalf of issues related to keeping our media open for democratic communication, particularly with regard to media concentration. The danger today, however, is that questions relating to the fairness and openness of America's "marketplace of ideas" will be buried beneath an avalanche of both jargon and apathy. The issues are growing very complicated and media companies are encountering difficulties in retaining their commitment to expensive forms of journalism at a time when the advertising base to support such forms is disappearing into the ether.

Progressives cannot afford to allow this to happen.
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