Can Journalism Be Saved?

Rediscovering America's Appetite for News

by Rachel Davis Mersey


Executive editor Mike Hoyt of the Columbia Journalism Review made this ironic statement: "The search for a future for serious reporting is the journalism story of our time." While the idea of a gripping, front-page news story about journalism itself may be comical, the dramatic decline of the news industry is certainly no joke.

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Cover image for Can Journalism Be Saved?

August 2010


Pages 167
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Current Events and Issues/New Media and Journalism
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This book challenges the once-dominant social responsibility model and argues that a new, "individual-first" paradigm is what will allow journalism to survive in today's crowded media marketplace.

By some measures, it would seem that print journalism is dying. Journalism recently suffered one of its worst circulation declines in years: a drop of more than ten percent in the a six month period ending September 30, 2009. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver, CO, closed its doors in 2009—after it dominated the AP awards in 2008, and was lauded for an investigative expose on unfair treatment of former nuclear workers. Even the New York Times and the Washington Post are experiencing financial trouble. But print advertising revenue still trumps online advertising revenue ten-fold. Is there hope yet for traditional journalism?

This book reviews the complicated challenge facing journalism, tracing its 19th-century community-oriented origins and documenting the vast expansion of the news business via blogs and other Internet-enabled outlets, user-generated content, and news-like alternatives. The author argues that a radical shift in mindset—striving to meet each individual's demands for what he wants to know—will be necessary to save journalism.


  • Presents a chronological review of the top-down influence model, the timeline of the evolution of the definition of news, and the historical development of social responsibility of the press
  • Contains helpful illustrations of the proposed new models of journalism
  • Bibliography of academic and professional materials related to the state of the news media
  • Index of important institutions including nameplate news organizations, influential companies (e.g., Apple and Google), theoretical frameworks, media owners, and media startups


  • Reviews the theory of—and establishes the failures of—the social responsibility model of journalism and showcases its practical implementation via new journalistic products
  • Addresses the critical concept of communicating with individuals to provide what people want to know, and explains why meeting this need is critical to saving quality journalism in America
  • Highlights a potential new business model for journalism in today's multimedia environment
Author Info

Rachel Davis Mersey is assistant professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, where she is also a faculty fellow for the university's Institute for Policy Research.



"Well documented and researched, this is required reading for anyone interested in journalism and media analysis, including policy wonks, whose work is criticism. ... Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers."—Choice


"If I were trying to figure out journalism's future, I would start with this book. It is full of well-written wisdom and great common sense, buttressed by important research. It holds its own--intellectually and viscerally."—David Lawrence, Jr., retired publisher of the Miami Herald and former president of both the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Inter American Press Association

"In this provocative study, Mersey issues an important challenge to the news orthodoxy: questioning its approach to both audience and journalism. Mersey cuts to the core and dares to ask, 'Should journalism as we know it today be saved?"—Joie Chen, Executive Vice President, Branded News, former CNN/CBS journalist

"Can Journalism Be Saved? is teeming with wisdom and insight and is a must read for anyone who cares about the future of authoritative journalism. Mersey gives us a new way to measure journalism and urges journalists to reject the notion that general circulation news has value and instead start serving individuals. Even more astounding, she might be right."—Mike Waller, Retired publisher, The Baltimore Sun

"This book is bad news for advocates of present-day journalism in America. It's good news for those who believe our current model is irreparably broken. And for anyone dedicated to returning our profession to its critical role in our democracy, it's essential news."—Richard B. Stolley, Senior Editorial Adviser, Time Inc.

"This straight-talking book places the audience -- indeed, the individual -- at the center, and bids journalists to do the same. We'd be well advised to listen."—Geneva Overholser, Director, USC Annenberg School of Journalism

"This scholarly new book is a welcome contribution to the ongoing debate regarding the future of journalism. Based on hard data rather than theory or opinion, it helps to answer the old question of whether media companies should focus on their audiences' 'need to know' or 'want to know' and provides useful direction for journalistic enterprises of all shapes, sizes, and climes."—Roberto Civita, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, The Abril Group, Sao Paulo, Brazil

"Rachel Davis Mersey, in her book, Can Journalism Be Saved?, has created a new model for successful journalism--the identity based model."—Jean Folkerts, Dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"Provocative, intelligent, and accessible, this book asserts that 'the future of journalism is not here; it is ahead of us. It is continually ahead of us.' Rachel Mersey shines a light that illuminates our way forward."—Henry E. Scott, former Vice President for New Media/New Products at the New York Times Company

"Rachel Davis Mersey's book brings to the fore a new identity-based model of news and its distribution. In today's context of dwindling newsrooms, disparate audiences and the prioritization of 'fluff' news, Davis Mersey offers journalists a fresh approach to re-engage with audiences....At this critical juncture of media, technology, and human behavior, Rachel Davis Mersey has a clear message for journalism to put itself at the heart of its audience."—Mary Baglivo, CEO New York, Chair Americas, Saatchi & Saatchi

"Here is a thoughtful proposal for a new definition of journalism now that its creators and consumers are free from the constraints of the old, pre-digital methods of learning and communicating. Rachel Davis Mersey integrates classical and current mass communication research to make her case."—Philip Meyer, Professor emeritus, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"In an era when journalists struggle to establish relevance and identity in the digital space, Rachel Davis Mersey concisely and insightfully offers a blueprint for saving the news. She translates market research on what motivates and engages readers into language journalists can understand and appreciate. An important book that advances the discussion about the potential of news organizations to connect and re-create communities of interest in the online world."—Penelope Muse Abernathy, Knight Chair, Journalism and Digital Media Economics, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, UNC at Chapel Hill

"With this book, Davis closely examines the economic and cultural forces that will likely spell the death of the general-interest newspaper. Her proposed alternative, a world of more individualized and targeted publications, offers a bright future for journalists and media consumers."—Geoff Dougherty, Editor and President, Chicago Current


Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2011 — Choice

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