Why We Need Public Journalism

Victor Pickard’s latest book about journalism and democracy concludes that dark political moments are precisely when we should be envisioning a different future. Of course, the moment he was referring to—before the book went on sale in December—looks downright sunny compared to what’s happened since.

Recent changes at the Atlantic are a striking example of the cruel logic of pandemic-era journalism. In the early days of the pandemic, the publication’s editor-in-chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, wrote to staff: “We have never, in the 163-year history of this magazine, had an audience like we had in March.” By May the magazine had added 90,000 subscribers, yet management still laid off almost a fifth of its work force, citing a decline in revenue from advertising and in-person events. And the issue is not just that journalists are losing their jobs. The jump in the Atlantic’s readership and subscriptions could not prevent dramatic financial hardship, suggesting the business of journalism itself is seriously broken.

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