From the editor: Media and self-government

Authored by Ray Nothstine

We’re all familiar with the practice of U.S. presidents giving a State of the Union address, but imagine such an address on the state of the news media. It likely wouldn’t be very rosy.

Regardless of how one feels about the present performance of American news media, we should all agree that robust journalism is essential for the maintenance of a free society. As the Virginia Declaration of Rights states, “the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.” (Section12)

A free and vigorous news media has a critical capacity to hold the powerful, including government officials, accountable. Little wonder Edmund Burke labeled the press “The Fourth Estate,” which conveys the important role journalists can play in questioning authority and disseminating truth.  

It’s hard to imagine any knowledgeable observer giving our present news media—especially national outlets—high marks in this regard. This American Habits issue doesn’t focus on bias in the press, although that topic is addressed. Our goal is to dig deeper into the “state of the media,” and look at solutions that can help vital institutions flourish once again. It is difficult to imagine American self-governance persisting without it.

In this issue we talk with Sarah Stonbely, who is the director of the State of Local News Project at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Their report on news deserts and the map itself is essential research to begin to reverse the ongoing loss of dynamic and much-needed local journalism. “Communities with robust local journalism are more engaged, have less corruption, and are more likely to have the information they need in times of crisis,” says Stonbely.  

Man reading a newspaper with headline “American’s Jet Flagships coast to coast in 41/2 hours!” while waiting in line at a counter at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, 1959. (Library of Congress)

John J. Miller of Hillsdale College and National Review contributes an excellent essay examining why there aren’t more conservatives going into journalism. He notes that opportunities abound for young conservative journalists, perhaps unlike any time in the past. The launch of so many conservative-minded outlets in the last few decades indicates significant demand.

In a similar vein, Anthony Hennen of The Center Square makes the case for why the center-right should invest in journalism, particularly given that opportunities abound to earn and restore public trust.

Few people have better insight into the media and the importance of newspapers than John Hood of the John William Pope Foundation. Hood, a journalism school graduate himself, contributes an essay related to what he learned in J-school, and how studying journalism can even prepare you for careers in other fields.

Frank DeVito of Napa Legal Institute focuses on optimism and hope for local journalists, coming to the same conclusion as others: local journalism needs bright and serious professionals filling its ranks. DeVito interviews one such local journalist–Carson Swick in Pennsylvania.

David Larson of Carolina Journal offers an essay on Roger Scruton and his work as a journalist and writer. Scruton affirmed the profession of journalism, insisting that “…writing about the issues that confront us is the work that must be done.”

Donna King of Carolina Journal makes the case for news organizations to label and embrace the worldviews that influence their work. CJ is unabashedly pro-market and supports policies that expand liberty. “Consumers need to know what’s on the label,” she says. I like the idea of greater transparency. It’s a key reason Carolina Journal has a competitive advantage. CJ embraces the passions and worldviews of its readers without trying to conceal its presuppositions.

James David Dickson of Michigan Capitol Confidential – A Mackinac Center publication, looks beyond the immediate narratives driving so much news to envision the bigger picture. In a separate essay, Dickson also issues a call for more organizations to establish media arms, noting: “The public trust is up for grabs.”

I have family in Michigan, so I’ve always been an admirer of how the Mackinac Center for Public Policy advocates for freedom of opportunity. I spoke with Executive Vice President Michael Reitz on a host of issues, but a recurring theme is empowering individuals as decision-makers, particularly to control their purpose and destiny.

In this issue we also feature contributors from Proven Media Solutions, who offer practical tips and tools for honing a campaign message and how to harness a media advantage in a rapidly changing environment.

Outside of the media box, new contributor Andrew Bibb reflects on George Washington’s views about the importance of keeping different levels of government in their proper spheres. The more government becomes misaligned from its intent, the more havoc it wreaks.

Our local hero is Ashley Thomas of Hope Street Ministry. I’m drawn to people who sacrifice for others, truly making it a mission in life. I’m a big fan of the work Ashley is doing to elevate those in difficult circumstances and a create caring spaces.

Finally, we have several reviews for readers. James Pinedo of State Policy Network contributes a review of the classic film “Call Northside 777.” Bruce Edward Walker reviews Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop” about sensationalist journalism. And I’ve put together a short list of some of the best films about the media.

The tie that unites the content in this issue is the necessity of a healthy news media for communities to flourish, and for self-governance to endure. One hopes that more on the political left and right—and certainly those in the center—will take up this cause. Celebrating the demise of media solely for ideological reasons will ultimately have disastrous consequences. I hope this issue serves as a springboard to start a deeper and much-needed conversation.

Authored by:Ray Nothstine


Welcome to American Habits!  

To stay connected to American Habits and be a part of the conversation, join our mailing list.