This August I’ll begin my new position as chair of the Journalism Department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst–and I can hardly wait to begin.
The UMass Journalism Department is a special community. The faculty are energetic and deeply engaged in scholarship and teaching. The students are curious, industrious, and committed to the best ideals of journalism in a democratic society. The curriculum is smart, combining a rigorous liberal arts education with serious professional training attuned to both traditional journalistic values and our contemporary digital landscape. I expect that UMass Journalism will become a major player in U.S. journalism education in the next decade. Keep your eye on us!
Karen List, the outgoing director of UMass Journalism, has been a wonderful steward of the program for the past nine years. She has accomplished a great deal, but perhaps her greatest achievement is the reinstatement of the UMass Journalism Program as an independent department during a period of crisis in journalism education throughout the country. In addition, Karen has helped facilitate plans for a new home for the department. In fall 2014, UMass Journalism will move into a new state-of-the-art building in the center of campus next to the charming Campus Pond.
I am grateful to be joining such a vibrant community of journalism teachers, scholars, students, and practitioners, and I look forward to all that we will accomplish together.
Finally, a methods book for those of us who study the history of the recent past. And it’s particularly suited to those of us who study the history of mass media. As the editors write in the book’s introduction, “[I]n an increasingly mass-mediated world, no historical category in the recent past can remain wholly untouched by another.” I would simply add that the mass media–including journalism and books, in both print and digital form–are historical forces that historians of the recent past must recognize and address in their historical explanations. The mass media cannot continue to be simply and only the stuff of footnotes, a primary resource for facts.
In Doing Recent History (University of Georgia Press, 2012), editors Claire Bond Potter (check out her blog, Tenured Radical, at the Chronicle of Higher Education) and Renee C. Romano, along with the book’s various contributors, explore the promises and challenges of writing history from what Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., called the “zone of imperfect visibility.” Subjects include oral history methods and practices, the influence of new technologies on historical practice, the problem of information overload in primary course research, privacy issues, copyright law, private archives, the challenges of working with sources who “talk back,” and the complex narrative choices historians must make.
It’s a terrific book, one that I will use in my graduate seminar on historical methods in mass communication history in spring of 2013. And I will use it to inform my own research practices and historical methods. For any historian of the recent past, it’s a must read.
Paul Starr has done it again. That is, he’s set meaningful, historically informed parameters for discussing American journalism’s contemporary problems. “An Unexpected Crisis: The News Media in Postindustrial Democracies,” published in the International Journal of Press/Politics, is must-reading for journalism historians and all who think and talk about the shrinking size of the American newspaper industry and the information “revolution” brought on by new media.
Michael Schudson and Katherine Fink comment on Starr’s article in the May/June online issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. Even if you have free access to Starr’s article through a university library, you should read Schudson’s and Fink’s interesting commentary. They highlight the second paragraph of the essay, where Starr suggests that the digital revolution has been good for freedom of expression and freedom of information but not for freedom of the press. They also point out that Starr is skeptical of the nostalgia one often hears for the so-called “golden age” of news when practically everyone read a daily newspaper and watched the evening news. Did journalism then routinely hold those in power accountable and give voice to minorities and women? No, not routinely.
So what is the unexpected crisis of journalism? The digital revolution unexpectedly disrupted the business model for news, exposing it to profound financial vulnerabilities, and fragmented and diminished its readership. Starr notes that in the late twentieth century, many observers believed European journalism was moving away from a partisan model of journalism toward an American model. That didn’t happen. Instead, American journalism has moved toward a European model. In the meantime, U.S. public policy has done nothing to adjust to the news crisis. And the crisis is threatening freedom of the press.
What can be done? Starr supports more government funding of public broadcasting, particularly its development across platforms with an emphasis on independent news. Schudson and Fink think is a good idea. So do I. As Starr points out, non-profit funding alone seems unable to solve our crisis in journalism. Part of the problem is that news is a public good and markets are generally not strong producers of public goods. What do you think?