Democracy and the Deterioration of Journalism

A Review of
Informing the News (Author: Thomas E. Patterson)

An informed citizenry is essential to a well-functioning democracy. We all assume that the “fourth estate” is what engenders citizens’ understanding of our national situation. In the last three decades, unfortunately, the quality of news has degenerated, raising questions about what the news can realistically be expected to accomplish.

The causes are technological (cable, internet, social media) as well as economic (audience fragmentation, advertising no longer can support costs of journalism) and sociological (the nationalization of politics, the changing style of journalism). The effect, according to a Carnegie Corporation report, is that “the quality of journalism is losing ground in the drive for profit, diminished objectivity, and the spread of the ‘entertainment virus.’”

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You Can’t Fight Polarization Until You Understand It

A Review of
Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity (Author: Lilliana Mason)

Lilliana Mason uses extensive social psychology research to explain how today’s polarization works. The two parties have become heavily “sorted”, and victory for the “team” eclipses attention to actual issues. She concludes:

The social sorting of American partisans has changed the electorate into a group of voters who are relatively unresponsive to changing information or real national problems. The voting booths are increasingly occupied by those who fiercely want their side to win and consider the other party to be disastrous.

And there are real effects:

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Getting People to Be Responsible Citizens

A review of
Attention Deficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement
(Author: Ben Berger)

The aim of expanding civic engagement has typically been promoted in top-down fashion. Ben Berger chides academics about this, and he advocates a more realistic view of citizens’ attention as well as more pragmatic strategies. The requisite framework is to observe citizens’ tastes, to find ways to get them to pay attention to political issues; and, when attention is secured, to mobilize their energy. Within this framework, he proposes three general solutions.

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