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How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Internet

The precarious present and perilous future of print journalism, especially Catholic print journalism — the “apostolate of the pen,” as Hilaire Belloc once called it — is a topic dear to our hearts. Though it is one we have devoted space to in this magazine over the past couple years — including “How Many Victims Will the Revolution Claim?” (editorial, Nov. 2009), “Not Yet Over the Hump” (editorial, May 2010), “The Death of the Daily Paper” by Cal Samra (Mar.), “The Role of Catholic Media Today” by Gregory Erlandson (Mar.) — we don’t spend an inordinate amount of time “obsessing” over it. Our interest isn’t driven exclusively by self-interest — though admittedly that element exists because we are, after all, journalists. Rather, we are concerned about the cultural consequences of the diminishing or — Heaven forbid — the demise of print journalism, whether it be journals of ideas like the NOR (“How Many Victims Will the Revolution Claim?”), the Catholic media at large (Erlandson), or secular daily newspapers (Samra). No matter the angle, the outlook is bleak.

Naturally, we aren’t the only ones who’ve taken a long look at this subject. Noteworthy among those joining us is James Fallows, whose article “Learning How to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media” appeared in the April edition of The Atlantic. Fallows, a widely published author of numerous books and magazine articles, is a former Rhodes Scholar, a past editor of U.S. News & World Report, a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, and is currently a national correspondent for The Atlantic. In other words, he’s no slouch.

In 1996 Fallows published a book called Breaking the News, which, as he puts it, “argued that a relentless focus on scandal, spectacle, and the ‘game’ of politics was driving citizens away from public affairs…and at the same time steadily eroding our public ability to assess what is happening and decide how to respond.”

Now, fifteen years later, Fallows looks back wistfully at the media environment in which he wrote his book: “The big, fatherly anchor figures — Brokaw, Jennings, Rather — were still on the evening news shows. Newspapers were mildly concerned about falling circulation rather than in an all-out panic about imminent collapse. Fox News Channel had yet to begin operations, and Craigslist had just started up.” He even writes with a twinge of chagrin about his book’s thesis: “To serve the public and to remain in operation, I argued, the news industry had to re-embrace its special role as a business that was not just about business. Journalists should commit themselves to the challenge of making what matters interesting, and resist the slide into the infotainment age. How quaint it all looks now!”

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