Journalism under Siege in an Age of New Media
University of California Press, $24.95, 326 pp.
My copy of Neil Henry’s American Carnival: Journalism under Siege in an Age of New Media is filled with sticky notes marking passages I want to share with my journalism students. But that’s not to say that Henry’s book is merely a textbook. It pulls together scads of lively historical and contemporary anecdotes about American journalism, offering fresh perspectives on its current state. For that reason alone it deserves a wide readership.
A former Washington Post reporter, author of Pearl’s Story, and now a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Henry contends that hard-won journalistic ethics—which ironically made their appearance in the early twentieth century when much of the press was mired in sensationalism—are threatened by enemies new and old.
The old enemy is the advertiser/publicist, who pushes opinion in directions dictated by money and power. The new enemy is the “citizen journalist,” anybody with Internet access and an ax to grind who uses the blogosphere to get everybody all excited (to steal a favorite phrase from the granddaddy of citizen journalists, William Randolph Hearst). Aiding and abetting these enemies is technology, which has made it all too easy to produce a steady flow of information that competes with legitimate journalism. Writes Henry: