"Crisis," wrote the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, "consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear." Are the media in crisis? There certainly are a number of morbid symptoms in the air. Just this month, for example, one of mainstream television's most visible journalists, Dan Rather, called on US President Obama to form a commission to investigate "the perilous state of America's news media."
Aside from raising the spectre of yet another industry bailout by what could become the mother of all corporate nanny states, Rather's alarm call has something to it. In the past year, hardly a week has gone by without an announcement that a venerable news institution is either shutting down or in deep financial difficulty. With seven US newspaper companies having filed for bankruptcy in recent months, the US Congress has actually begun debating "whether the financial problems in the newspaper industry pose a public policy issue that warrants federal action."
Also this month, one of Canada's largest media conglomerates, Canwest Global Communications, announced that one of its subsidiaries would not be making its latest interest payment on approximately US$400 million of outstanding notes. Will the fate of floundering Canadian media companies become a public policy issue as well? Ironically, the conventional role of Canadian media and communication policy is arguably dwindling, with the CBC's agonizingly slow but steady death by a thousand budget cuts and the CRTC's persistent regulatory bias in favour of media industries over the interests of consumers.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, "citizen media" seem to be thriving. But here too there are a number of morbid symptoms. The explosion of communicative opportunities afforded by new media technologies is part of a fragile ecology in which giant corporations exercise enormous power, often in relative obscurity. The debate surrounding "net neutrality" - or equal access to the Internet - is only the tip of this particular iceberg.
Some might say that Media@McGill thrives on crisis (our motto stems from the same root, after all). We certainly try to focus on the flashpoints that mark the media environment at any point in time. As we enter our fourth year, friends and followers of Media@McGill can look forward to another season of critical communication matters.
We begin this week with a Citizen Media Rendezvous, organized in collaboration with the National Film Board's Citizenshift/parolecitoyenne and l'Institut du nouveau monde. In mid-September we receive the first in a long list of distinguished academic speakers, Larry Grossberg, who will address the role of communication and cultural studies in understanding the current economic crisis. And on October 1 we host a blockbuster public lecture by the iconic human rights activist Angela Davis, on Media, Race and Power. Later in the year, among other things, we will be sponsoring events on public broadcasting, internet governance, the future of newspapers and science and technology policy. For updates and more, watch the events column just to the right of this space. Deeper probing of this web site will introduce you to updated profiles of our faculty members and their projects, the graduate students whose work we are supporting, and visitors we will be receiving at Media@McGill.
Media@McGill's activities would not be possible without the ongoing support of its excellent and dedicated staff. I take this opportunity to introduce (and reintroduce) our longstanding Outreach Associate Claire Roberge, returning Content Management System operator Neal Thomas, and incoming Administrative Coordinator Mary Chin.
Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications Director, Media@McGill
Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers, 1971, p. 276.
Dan Rather, "The News Americans Need". The Washington Post, 9 August 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/07/AR2009080703183.html?referrer=emailarticle.
Suzanne M. Kirchhoff, The US Newspaper Industry in Transition. Washington: Congressional Research Service, 2009, summary. See Features column on this page.
Canwest Global Communications Corp., press release, Canwest Limited Partnership ceases payments under 9.25% senior subordinated notes, 3 August 2009, http://www.canwest.com/media/viewNews.asp?NewsroomID=1013.
See for example, CBCnews.ca, "Bell to charge small ISPs by usage", 13 August 2009, http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2009/08/12/bell-crtc-internet-usage.html.