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News for the Rich, White, and Blue

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Unfortunately the quality of the ARC was atrocious and I simply couldn't deal with it unless I wanted to really damage my dear eyesight. I really tried but I couldn't go on.

Many thanks to Netgalley for this missed opportunity
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I found this a fascinating read. Usher adds quality, experience and information to what has been long-suspected by the general public: how the elite control and manipulate the press. To warn readers: it is US-centric (which isn't a personal criticism of mine, but it might be to those who are planning on reading this for wider knowledge.)

It was a highly informative, well-researched book and I walked away a lot more cynical with regards to the media that I choose to consume. Would recommend to anybody interesting in politics, journalism - or for that friend whose just a little naive with regards to what they read in the Press.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an unbiased review :)
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NEWS FOR THE RICH, WHITE, AND BLUE by Nikki Usher deals with "How Place and Power Distort American Journalism." Honestly, I had not given much thought to the economic pressure on mainstream news to shift tone and writing for its white, liberal audience. I prefer to think that they are pursuing (and presenting) truth, but Usher, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, effectively argues that financial constraints are reshaping the market and raises fears about a "coming news drought." Usher notes that "the differences between the haves and have-nots of news are growing worse. ... We get the democracy we deserve based on the core functions we demand from the news media." She raises important questions like:
- What do we want journalism to look like?
- Can we focus more on "accountability journalism" (The Boston Globe's direction?) and "unbundle" the core functions of professional journalism?
- What "blind spots" exist in national and international news outlets? How can inclusiveness (e.g., fewer barriers to entry) be promoted?
- Given an "American audience that somehow thinks that journalism should be 'unbiased' but nonetheless happily consumes partisan news media," should publications more actively acknowledge the political ideologies which inform their journalism?
- What factors make a community – and its newspapers – more or less resilient? How can we best support quality journalism in specific places?
Usher is a forceful advocate for change in the industry; she says, "Journalists have often imagined journalism, especially newspaper journalism, as a neutral actor in the communication of reality. This delusion needs to end." I wonder how many of my students – who increasingly distrust all news outlets and newspapers – would respond to her suggestions. And, on the related topic of the future of local newspapers, I would definitely recommend Storm Lake by Art Cullen (published in 2018).
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News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism by Nikki Usher is a recommended, informative examination of journalism from 2016-2019 and the direction newspapers should take. (Highly recommended for for professionals in the industry.)

It is obvious to anyone who was ever devoted to reading their local daily newspaper that journalism and newspapers have changed over the years with the prevalence of the availability of online news. Obviously this switch hit the newspaper industry hard with a loss of income resulting in a reduced staff. Currently, according to Usher's research, the main supporters who are continuing to pay for their daily news are largely rich, white, and liberal. Naturally, the news is written with a slant toward the views of those who are paying for it and keeping the newspapers relevant and in business. Usher states in the opening, "Like many journalists, scholars, industry observers, and policy makers, I was frustrated by the blind spots of national journalists whose media bubble insulated them from the groundswell of right-wing populism in the United States. It became clear to me that place, partisanship, and inequality were increasingly intersecting when it came to how people felt about news and where journalism seemed to be on the decline."

As the journalists serve the readers who will pay for the news, they are increasingly losing touch with the larger scope of diverse public opinions and thus reinforcing the distrust in their coverage. It is a vicious cycle that leads to a continuation of the present state of journalism. Additionally, there is an increasing lack of specifically local and regional news stories as the well-funded media outlets write to cover the viewpoints of a global "placeless" reader.

In part and greatly summarized: Chapter one tackles the reasons behind the change in newspapers. Chapters two and three pinpoint the audience who pays for news, the reasons for journalism's realignment of their focus, and the implications of this. Chapter four looks in-depth at Washington DC correspondents and their role in journalism, as well as the increasing Beltway-Heartland divide in news. Chapters five and six examine how the "place-based dynamics of digital economics shape the future of newspapers at an institutional level" and compares newspapers to the New York Times to show the areas that will shape the future of newspapers. Finally, chapter seven scrutinizes data about supporting newspapers through nonprofit philanthropy and how this support furthers the current charges of news having media bias as the papers are located in liberal cities. Usher concludes with recommendations to overhaul the current practices to increase the ability of journalists to reach a divergent group of readers and cover a varied set of issues.

One recommendation would be to purchase the hardcover edition of News for the Rich, White, and Blue due to the many charts and graphs included in the text and notes covering all the research and data Usher compiled don't translate well to an ebook. Now, while interesting, this scholarly novel can also be repetitive and the information included can be dense. Anyone who has an abiding interest in journalism and the current state of news should read this work and take the conclusions seriously. There may be some additional changes that have happened since the focus of the book since 2020 certainly resulted in many changes. 3.5 for me.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Columbia University Press.
The review will be published on Barnes & Noble, Google Books, and submitted to Amazon.
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Thank you to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Nikki Usher's News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism is an important work for our time, and will all but certainly ruffle the feathers of the many left-leaning reporters who have forever bristled at the accusation that American journalism has a liberal bias. Usher confirms this bias is more prevalent now than ever before, along with a bias towards wealthy, white subscribers. The logic behind her argument is hard to contest: the internet revolution has rendered print news nearly obsolete, along with the revenue brought in by print ads, forcing subscribers to pay ever-increasing fees to access paywalled content. Due to the political realignment of the past decade or so, wealthier people are more likely to be white, liberal, and living in coastal cities, making them the target audience for major news corporations such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. While small, niche outlets have managed to remain independent, mid-sized outlets are dying fast, and are either getting bought out by major corporations or disappearing entirely. On the journalists' end, the decreasing number of news outlets has led to greater job competition, favoring graduates who attended prestigious private universities and were able to work unpaid internships while in school--and are therefore more likely to have come from wealthy backgrounds themselves.

As fascinating and timely as News for the Rich, White, and Blue is, the execution is far from flawless. There are many instances of "In this chapter, I will. . . " and, after devoting most of the book to bravely taking on the many issues of the news media that will surely not make Usher any friends on Twitter, she quickly reverts to a more bog-standard liberal conclusion at the book's end, as if to assure her fellow reporters that no, see, you are still the good guys. But more than anything, the greatest issue with News for the Rich, White, and Blue is that what was argued in a full-length book could have easily been accomplished in a fifty-page essay. Much of the book is simply re-affirming what we already gleaned from the Introduction.

Nevertheless, News for the Rich, White, and Blue is still worth the read, if for no other reason than to explain an increasingly relevant phenomenon that few people are putting into words. (Ironically enough, I would also recommend getting the print version in this case, since the graphs and charts were difficult to read on an e-reader).
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The book shows the situation among the publications in the United States and the trends in the media overseas. However, the book can also serve as an example for the media in Europe. Particularly interesting are the examples and the focus on local media, which are experiencing more and more problems to survive. I recommend it for people with an interest in the topic.
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Insightful, well-researched, and at times dense, News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism is exactly what it sounds like. Nikki Usher argues that newspapers and news outlets have systematically focused on their rich, white, and democratic readers as they are the most likely to adhere to subscription models. In a modern era where advertisements are more profitable on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, newspapers are left behind and funding becomes more scarce. 

Usher's analysis is repetitive, but convincing. A quarter of the book (located in the Appendices) covers the research methods that Usher conducted in her own research studies, and then all the sources and interviews obtained from others are also posted. Every condition is viewed, from distance from Washington, donors, local participation, and the different cultures which exist in each region--all of which have an impact on what news is and how well funded it in throughout America. My favorite parts of the book were focused on newspapers I grew up with, such as The Boston Globe and The New York Times, and how they were both exceptions to the rules in a way. Other details that surprised me was what cities had hired the most reporters in recent years. I would have never expected Duval County, Florida to be hiring more news reporters than places in California. 

Something I found ironic while reading Usher's book is that it also will likely be picked up by the very people who are invested in newspapers: the rich, white, and democrat-leaning individuals. In this book, Usher discusses that local news must focus away from weather and health information, and instead cover more locally meaningful stories which are inclusive to their neighborhoods. Most of the information gathered for the book was between 2016-2019, which poses a very unique time in history with the popularization of "fake news" and related slang. This book is written in a way which caters to the highly educated, and also those who love newspapers as they are now. It is unlikely that the poor rural elder farmer will pick this book up and find it meaningful, even though it validates a lot of the Republican's fear of Democrat-dominated media.
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An effective if occasionally dry assessment of the dire situation that journalism is in right now, how their actions and events got themselves there, and the incredibly grim prospects of escaping from the depths it has sunken to.
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