Thursday, May 15, 2008

Don’t Worry, I’ll Save Democracy!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

(This item was originally posted on Tactical Philanthropy/

USC Annenberg Dean Ernest James Wilson III drew chuckles last week with his take on the state of the media as part of the a Media and Philanthropy mini-summit held at the Newseum during the annual meeting of the Council on Foundations. The headline: Traditional media is dying/changing, and democracy is at great risk.

Nothing new there, but through the hundreds of cocktail receptions and dinners he’s obligated to attend, Wilson identified the common syllogisms of journalists pleading their importance to democracy.

According to Wilson,
If you’re a member of TRADITIONAL MEDIA you argue:
1. Newspapers are vital to democracy
2. Newspapers are dying, therefore:
3. Democracy in the U.S. is at great risk.

If you’re part of DIGITAL MEDIA:
1. New media is opening new channels of communication and networking for all
2. Democracy is all about the interchange of ideas, therefore:
3. Democracy is being enhanced by digital media.

1. The non-commercial media space is essential for democracy
2. Public broadcasting is slow to adapt to digital media, which has resulted in a shrinking audience, therefore:
3. Democracy is at risk.

If you are with COMMERCIAL MEDIA:
1. Commercial media are desperately trying to leverage their assets and cut costs
2. Democracy is good in principal, but the government has moved away from regulation, therefore:
3. Commercial media pays little attention to democracy.

Levity aside, Wilson raises a good point that more cross-sector collaboration on the challenges facing media is vital. No one sector will "save media" - and self-importance won’t help their case either. I’ve seen the silo-ing firsthand through my work as a journalism program officer, meeting with a variety of organizations claiming to have "solutions" to the changing media landscape.
Wilson’s call for increased cross-media dialogue is useful for funders considering investing in media and groups working in the sector.

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