The collapse of journalism and the journalism of collapse: From royal, to prophetic, to apocalyptic

by Robert Jensen

For those who believe that a robust public-affairs journalism is essential for a society striving to be democratic, the 21st century has been characterized by bad news that keeps getting worse.

Whatever one’s evaluation of traditional advertising-supported news media (and I have been among its critics; more on that later), the unraveling of that business model has left us with fewer professional journalists who are being paid a living wage to do original reporting. It’s unrealistic to imagine that journalism can flourish without journalists who have the time and resources to do journalism.

For those who care about a robust human presence on the planet, the 21st century has been characterized by really bad news that keeps getting really, really worse.

Whatever one’s evaluation of high-energy/high-technology civilization (and I have been among its critics; more on that later), it’s now clear that we are hitting physical limits; we cannot expect to maintain contemporary levels of consumption that draw down the ecological capital of the planet at rates dramatically beyond replacement levels. It unrealistic to imagine that we can go on treating the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We have no choice but to deal with the collapse of journalism, but we also should recognize the need for a journalism of collapse. Everyone understands that economic changes are forcing a refashioning of the journalism profession. It’s long past time for everyone to pay attention to how multiple, cascading ecological crises should be changing professional journalism’s mission in even more dramatic fashion.

It’s time for an apocalyptic journalism (that takes some explaining; a lot more on that later).

To read more


Arguing for Our Lives

We live in a time when public discourse is more skewed than ever by the propaganda that big money can buy, with trust in the leadership of elected officials at an all-time low. The “news” has degenerated into sensationalist sound bites, and the idea of debate has become a polarized shouting-match that precludes any meaningful discussion. It’s also a time of anxiety, as we’re faced with economic and ecological crises on a global scale, with stakes that seem higher than ever before. In times like these, it’s essential that we be able to think and communicate clearly.

In Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialog, published by City Lights, University of Texas professor Robert Jensen attacks the problems head-on, sharing strategies on how to challenge “conventional wisdom.” In this excerpt on the Nation of Change website, Jensen points out the obvious problem in asserting that God must be male. He argues:

given that most believe God to be beyond our human capacity to understand, asking whether God is male or female is a bit like asking whether God has curly or straight hair, is tall or short. It’s not that the questions are hard to answer, but rather that the questions don’t really make any sense. Whatever God is, that isn’t it.

In a second excerpt on Truthout, Jensen points out that politicians and pundits, on all sides, are quick to suggest that opponents are “blinded by ideology,” in an attempt to undermine critique. But we are all ideological, and:

Rather than denying the role of ideology out of fear that it will poison political discourse, we should move ideology front and center, to encourage a substantive discussion of those underlying values, attitudes, outlooks, and beliefs. As we face unprecedented challenges economically and ecologically – as the stakes for our policy decisions get higher – we stand a better chance of finding meaningful solutions if all of us have the resolve to challenge our own ideologies.

Jensen is also the author of the We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Outin print and on Kindle.

We Are All Apocalyptic Now

The news about the health of the ecosphere is grim, and getting grimmer. This is on the minds of lots of people, but it’s often difficult to find places where others want to discuss this. Anyone who speaks bluntly about these threats risks being accused of being a downer.

A new piece posted on Truthout, “Rationally Speaking, We Are All Apocalyptic Now,” offers help in struggling with these issues.

It is drawn from my new polemic, We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out, which is available in print and on Kindle.

Robert Jensen

This is a new site. For a full archive of my writing, please go to the site I maintain at the University of Texas at Austin. There will be more to come here. For now, here’s are a couple of essays that sum up my perspective on the contemporary crises we face: “Nature Bats Last: Notes on Revolution and Resistance, Revelation and Redemption” and “Hope is for the Lazy: The Challenge of Our Dead World.”

Also check the sites of the progressive group Third Coast Activist Resource Center and the community center 5604 Manor in Austin.