Although my scholarship spans a number of research areas, it is united by a central concern with how media institutions and systems constrain and enable democratic practices. In particular, my work focuses on the policies, politics, history, and democratic theory that structure media institutions, and how media figure within the broader U.S. and global political economy. More specifically, my work focuses on global and U.S. media policy, the politics driving specific policy regimes, and activist efforts toward changing them. I have published on the following subjects: The history and future of journalism; Indymedia and Internet politics; global communication, Internet governance policies, and communication rights; the complex relationships between media activists, political elites, and the mainstream press; and the politics of digital media policies such as network neutrality.
Much of my current work focuses on the future of journalism and news media. In particular, I focus on alternative journalistic models in global, historical, and contemporary contexts, and their implications for the current challenges facing advertising-supported news media. In this vein, I was the lead author on an influential white paper, “Saving the News,” which was the first comprehensive study of the journalism crisis that erupted in 2008-2009. These interests led to a co-edited book with Robert McChesney, Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done To Fix It, published with the New Press in May 2011.
My dissertation, “Media Democracy Deferred: The Postwar Settlement for U.S. Communications, 1945-1949,” historicizes current media policies and reform efforts. Based on extensive archival research, it analyzes the postwar critical juncture when policymakers, social movements, and communication industries grappled over the role of a commercial press in a democratic society. By focusing on policy formations around the Hutchins Commission, the FCC Blue Book, and the Fairness Doctrine, I chronicle how a vibrant media reform movement was largely co-opted and quelled, resulting in a “postwar settlement” marked by three assumptions: media should remain self- regulated, practice social responsibility, and adhere to a negative conception of the First Amendment–a freedom of the press privileging the rights of media producers and owners over listeners, readers, and the broader public. This social contract between the state, the polity, and media institutions consolidated an industry-friendly arrangement that contained reform movements, foreclosed on alternative models, and discouraged structural critiques of the U.S. media system. These outcomes continue to have a major impact on much of the media Americans interact with today.
I am drawing from my dissertation research for a book- length study based on the 1940s media reform movement, the resultant normative foundations for media policies like the Fairness Doctrine, and the lessons these antecedents hold for contemporary policymakers and reformers, particularly around questions regarding the future of news media and its role in a democratic society. A future book project will examine how this “postwar settlement” has helped create a “misinformation society” that structurally undercuts democratic ideals of civil deliberation around important policy issues. I also am working on a book that examines the tactics, strengths, weaknesses, tensions, and democratic theories underlying different types of media activism. Finally, I am in the early stages of planning a monograph-length comparative analysis of the normative foundations of global media and telecommunication policy regimes.