Democracy and the News by Herbert J. Gans


Democracy and the News by Herbert J. Gans

American democracy was founded on the belief that ultimate power rests in an informed citizenry. But that belief appears naive in an era when private corporations manipulate public policy and the individual citizen is dwarfed by agencies, special interest groups, and other organizations that have a firm grasp on real political and economic power. In Democracy and the News, one of America's most astute social critics explores the crucial link between a weakened news media and weakened democracy. Building on his 1979 classic media critique Deciding What's News, Herbert Gans shows how, with the advent of cable news networks, the internet, and a proliferation of other sources, the role of contemporary journalists has shrunk, as the audience for news moves away from major print and electronic media to smaller and smaller outlets. Gans argues that journalism also suffers from assembly-line modes of production, with the major product being publicity for the president and other top political officials, the very people citizens most distrust. In such an environment, investigative journalism-which could offer citizens the information they need to make intelligent critical choices on a range of difficult issues-cannot flourish. But Gans makes several incisive suggestions about what the news media can do to recapture its role in American society and what political and economic changes might move us closer to a true citizen's democracy. Touching on questions of critical national importance, Democracy and the News sheds new light on the vital importance of a healthy news media for a healthy democracy.


Gans draws on recent scholarship and statistical data to support his recommendations, but this well-argued book remains accessible to general readers. A useful purchase for both public and academic libraries. -Library Journal This season's best book on the media -Ellen Hetzel, Poynteronline Gans radiates decency and common sense. Like Tocqueville, he also brings something of the neutral tone of a foreign observer (he arrived in his teens as a refugee), and he is refreshingly free of partisan bias. -Ted Widmer, New York Times Book Review The biggest surprise in Herbert Gans

't his blunt diagnosis of what ails journalism or his fresh, often funky suggestions for reform. The biggest surprise is his challenge to basic assumptions about news and democracy... Gans is most provocative when challenging our articles of faith, particularly the view that if the press just better informs citizens, then they will become more involved in civic life and democracy will benefit. Gans argues that lack of power is more debilitating to citizens than lack of information... Gans'

'Journalists cannot function as messengers,'

.' -American Journalism Review A sober, researched and valuable contribution to the current discussion of the media. -Houston Chronicle No book on news and government offers more good sense in more compact fashion. Anyone tired of bombast about 'liberal bias'-or for that matter, about a nation mired in conservatism by the opposite bias-should consult Gans

-organized state-of-the-art compendium of evidence and argument. Democracy and the News is crisp, seasoned, clarifying, realistic, and impressively hopeful. It will settle a lot of arguments. -Todd Gitlin Herbert Gans has written a wise and lucid book that draws on his profound and nuanced understanding of the media, and his deep commitment to democratic ideals. Most admirably, Gans not only gives us a crisp catalog of the impediments to a media that serves democracy, but actually dares to consider steps toward overcoming them. -Frances Fox Piven

About the Author

Herbert J. Gans is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and the author of many books, including Deciding What's News, Popular Culture and High Culture, The Urban Villagers, and The War Against the Poor.

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Book Info


192 pages


Herbert J. Gans
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Oxford University Press Inc

Publication date

1st April 2004



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