Michael Schudson is not super well-known, even by the relatively anonymous standards of academia. But his book The Uneasy Persuasion completely upended my thinking about the way advertising does (and, more often, doesn’t) work, and now another one of his books is having a similar impact on my thinking about journalism and its relationship to democracy. The book is called Why Democracies Need An Unloveable Press, and it’s a short but really smart look at the different democratic functions played by the media, and the curcumstances under which it does (and, sometimes, does not) serve those functions. One line of argument I especially like is his claim that our understanding of journalism’s role is tainted by tacit populist assumptions, and that we would do better to understand journalism’s democratic mission in a representative democracy.
If Schudson is right, one consequence for the media is that we need to pay more attention to institutions. Informing people in the name of helping voters hold the government to account is important, yes. But recognizing the way most of the effective checks on government power are not vertical (i.e. between government and voters) but horizontal (i.e. through opposing branches or institutions) would change the nature of journalism in a way that could help it play a more effective role in enhancing democracy.
More tomorrow — especially in light of this highly-blogged article.