Capsule reviews of new books on media, culture, and democracy. Send review copies to Reclaim the Media, PO Box 22754, Seattle WA 98122, and support your local independent bookstores! Currently under review:

  • The Death and Life of American Journalism by Robert McChesney and John Nichols
  • Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics through Networked Progressive Media by Jessica Clark and Tracy van Slyke
  • Digital Inclusion: Measuring the Impact of Information and Community Technologyed. by Michael Crandall and Karen E. Fisher
  • The Battle of the Story of the "Battle of Seattle" ed. by David Solnit
  • Ethereal Shadows: Communication and Power in Contemporary Italy by Franco Berardi et al.
  • Freedom of the Press: The First Amendment, its Constitutional History and the Contemporary Debate ed. by Garrett Epps

Bookshelf

Here Comes Everybody

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
by Clay Shirky [Penguin] buy online

Clay Shirky is among the keenest observers of the real-world uses of social networking applications on the Internet. Here he has written the most essential account of grassroots networking online, and how it has transformed the balance of social power for consumers and citizens. Rather than repeating hype about the potential benefits of user-publishing and networking tools such as Flickr, Meetup, Wikipedia and blogs, Shirky gives a searching examination of how users and readers actually engage with these tools, and how they really have disrupted previous communications norms. Shirky's storytelling abilities made the book a pleasurable read. Includes an extended and challenging discussion of social media and news, in which he problematizes the notion of journalistic professionalism. -jl

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The Political Economy of Media

The Political Economy of Media: Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas
by Robert McChesney [Monthly Review]

This substantial collection of essays is a companion volume to McChesney's first book of 2008, Communications Revolution. In that work, the author calls for a transformation of the academic field of media studies (in alignment with the growing media democracy movement), based on the observation that both communications technology and media policy are in the midst of a major shift, potentially a shift towards democratization. The Political Economy of Media provides a rich toolkit for academics and critical activists wishing to ground today's media critiques in an historical context, and to further connect media activism with long-term goals of participatory democracy and social justice. McChesney has gathered together numerous threads from his brilliant scholarship over the last 20 years – mostly from previously scattered journal articles and unpublished talks. Chapters focus on three areas: critiques of journalism; historical studies on the economic structures of media; and politics and the media reform movement. Particularly valuable sections include chapters on "how to think about journalism" and on the history of legal and popular understandings of the first amendment. -jl

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Broadcasting, Voice and Accountability

Broadcasting, Voice, and Accountability
by Steve Buckley, Kreszentia Duer, Toby Mendel and Seán Ó Siochrú [World Bank Institute]

This interesting reference book, coedited by a group of international community radio practitioners, communications rights activists and international development leaders, offers a primer on how community media, especially community radio, can support economic development and civic engagement in developing countries. It is also a detailed practicum showing how an internationalist vision of communications rights can and should connect with real-world policies providing broad access to communications technology. In clearly written and well-organized sections, the authors reviews the pros and cons of various funding models for noncommercial media, various strategies for deploying and regulating community broadcasting, and a range of policies protecting communications rights and free speech. Drawing examples from the global south and from Europe, Broadcasting, Voice and Accountability's primary audience is policymakers and NGOs working outside the US; but for this reason the also holds particular relevance to North American media activists, in that it provides a great shows how these issues are discussed in an internationalist context not dominated by US political and economic limitations. The book's valuable resources include an extensive bibliography of web-published articles on international media governance. -jl

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Standing Up to the Madness

Standing Up To the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times
by Amy Goodman and David Goodman [Hyperion]

In their third book together, Democracy Now host Amy Goodman and brother/journalist David Goodman provide a set of profiles in courage for a new generation. The book's chapters tell the stories of individuals and groups of people who have responded to injustice with courage and resistance: New Orleans organizer Malik Rahim's community organizing in the wake of Katrina; librarians resisting orders to surveil patrons; Lt. Ehren Watada's refusal to fight an unjust war. The Goodmans implicitly critique the establishment media for their failure to recognize the value in these people's stories, which, the book argues, point the way to an emerging wave of grassroots civic participation. -jl

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Millennial Makeover

Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics
by Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais [Rutgers]

Both descriptive and prophetic, Millennial Makeover attempts to describe tech-enabled civic engagement among the "Millennial" generation - the American generation currently coming into political consciousness. Taking up and extending theories about generational types (boomers, gen x-ers) and cyclical political shifts, the authors argue that tech-savvy and highly networked Millennials are ushering in a new civic and political realignment. Unfortunately, the book's closing sections, comprising predictions and challenges for this new generation, offer little more than trite platitudes. Finally, given its title, the book has surprisingly little of interest to say about MySpace, YouTube or other social networking services. -jl

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The Future of the Internet

The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It
by Jonathan Zittrain [Yale]

In this wise and often funny book, Jonathan Zittrain distinguishes between open, 'generative' electronic tools such as programmable computers and Wikipedia, and ‘tethered appliances’ such as iPhones and Facebook. While the latter offer users convenience, predictability and security, he argues, these benefits come at a cost to creativity, innovation, privacy, and, ultimately, democracy. Zittrain makes the case for a communications environment characterized by collaborative design, open access, neutral networks and distributed responsibility for evolving standards. -jl

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So Wrong for So Long

So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits--And the President--Failed on Iraq
by Greg Mitchell [Union Square]

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The United States vs. I. Lewis Libby

The United States v. I. Lewis Libby
ed. & with reporting by Murray Waas [Union Square]

Investigative jounalist Murray Waas provides the definitive source about a legal case related to the Bush administration’s attempts to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had publicly undermined the official rationale for war in Iraq. Libby was convicted (and his sentence commuted by Bush), but there remain many unanswered questions about the extent of the adminisntration’s willingness to lie to the public, and key media players’ eagerness to repeat administration claims in return for favored access. Waas’ commentary helps makes the long court transcripts accessible and draws out major issues. -jl

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Media Concentration and Democracy

Media Concentration and Democracy: Why Ownership Matters
by C. Edwin Baker [Cambridge]

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Made Love Got War

Made Love Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State
by Norman Solomon [Polipoint Press]

Veteran media critic Norman Solomon has helped educate a generation of media activists with his creative and politically uncompromising essays on the faces of power elites hidden behind the most ingrained habits of corporate media. He has paid particular attention to the links between American media and militarism. Solomon's latest book, Made Love, Got War is an activist memoir – tracing the author's development of critical political perspectives as a journalist, anti-nuclear activist and media critic from the 1960s through the 1980s. Laden with enlightening anecdotes, including accounts of Solomon's controversial trips to Iraq with Congressmen and Sean Penn. -jl

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey