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Mainstreaming Academics through Failing Newspapers

March 11, 2009

If you watch the news, read newspapers, and view Internet-based news sources—as I do daily—then you can’t help but be aware of an apparent downward trend in the readership of local and national newspapers. Everyone seems to be writing about it, especially newspaper journalists. There seems to be what many sociologists call a “flow-of-events” associated with the phenomena.

Readership of a newspaper drops. Business responds by reducing advertisements in newspapers and going to other media in an attempt to communicate with more potential customers. Newspapers lose money and respond by releasing staff, reducing issues, or closing. This process may result in the reduction of information sources for the public.

Some academics, such as Jonathan Zimmerman, suggest that newspapers turn to college professors for help. He argues professors could donate quality writings for free or at a much lower cost. Some sociologists would agree with him, concluding scholars in social sciences would be pre-qualified for such a task through their own expertise in such fields as economics, criminal justice, criminology, politics, education, history, or military studies (academics often refer to these as “field of interest” or “specialty”). Most college professors would bring to the table the writing experience associated with a long list of publications.

Would you like to discuss this possibility from a sociological perspective? If so, select one or more of the discussion topics below and post your response:

1. Zimmerman suggests that having professors donate writings to newspapers might re-introduce academics to the general public—a process sociologists have referred to as “mainstreaming.” Mainstreaming could result in a strengthened respect and appreciation for economics, history, philosophy, political science, or psychology in the public mind. What would be some additional advantages to these academic disciplines? Can you think of some disadvantages or dangers this might have for these disciplines?

2. Do you think the skill set of a journalist is different than an academic researcher? If so, how? Do you think such differences would improve or degrade the content of newspapers? Do you think such differences would increase or decrease newspaper circulation? Why?

3. Some sociologists would suggest instead of “propping up” failing newspapers by reducing operation costs, newspaper management should review why readership is dropping and address that issue instead of trying to adapt to a lower level of readership. What social factors do you think might explain reduced levels of newspaper readership? Can newspaper management control or adapt to the social facts you’ve listed? If so, explain how. If not, explain why.

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