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The World Is Going Digital -- Are We Doomed?

Two new books, about the effects and implications of the Internet, suggest a scary digital dystopia awaits us.

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McChesney’s book also suffers from a plague of sweeping over-statements. Cavalierly mentioning the “fact” that both the Democratic and Republican parties are “effectively owned by communications corporations” or claiming that “what is emerging veers toward a classic definition of fascism” only undercuts his larger and more salient criticisms.

Still, both Mele and McChesney make valuable points about the need for stronger institutional reactions to our current crisis of media and democracy, and both their books are well worth the read. As McChesney accurately concludes, “the Internet is not the cause of journalism’s problems.” Like Mele, he believes it is up to us to imagine and build” institutions that will save it. His approach to doing so, however, is to recommend that since journalism is a public good, it receive large public investments in the future—a view he also espoused in earlier works such as The Death and Life of American Journalism.

But as much as I might favor obtaining more resources for both institutions and journalists themselves (especially his call for “living wages for reporters”) I don’t see billions of dollars in public subsidies flowing my way any time soon, any more than I do free beer and ice cream…

Instead, I think we must, ironically, look instead to the Internet itself, in all its destabilizing and disruptive glory, to deliver a new and improved journalism. Both Mele and McChesney admit the possibility that, as McChesney puts it, “the Internet could provide the basis for a radically improved democratic journalism.” After all, as he also writes, “The Internet is the ultimate public good…and is profoundly disposed toward democracy.” Like McChesney, Mele ends on a promising note, saying that although “at first glance, the End of Big does seem dark, maybe even apocalyptic,” the future “will belong to those who gaze beyond the chaos of the End of Big, glimpsing one last big that stands unscathed” Big Opportunity.”

So why all the naysaying and doomsday predictions? The digital information revolution has already greatly democratized media and commerce. Why can’t it next democratize democracy itself?

Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor is the author of "Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio" (AlterNet Books, 2008). O'Connor also writes the Media Is A Plural blog.

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