The Starr Retort

Remember the essay that Princeton professor, author, and sometime magazine contributor Paul Starr had in The New Republic a couple weeks ago? The one in which he argued, essentially and compellingly, that the demise of newspapers will enable government corruption and, in some sense, compromise American democracy?

Well. In the current issue of TNR, Yochai Benkler—Harvard Law professor and The Wealth of Networks author—offers an extraordinarily polite, and similarly compelling, rebuttal to Starr.

Perhaps, as Starr proposes, there is room to enlist philanthropic support for local reporting. I would suspect, however, that doing so would achieve more if it created state-level online muckraking organizations with a generation of young journalists who have grown on the Net than by propping up older establishments that still depend on much higher ratios of organizational, financial, and physical capital to talent than the new, lighter, networked models permit. We are still very much at the beginning of the new era. It is indeed possible that news reporting, national or local, will prove more resistant to a shift to mixed networked models with a large role for social production in its creation than was true of operating systems, web server software, or an encyclopedia. But I doubt it.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.