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Professors could rescue newspapers

A hundred years ago professors wrote for the press – free of charge.

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The American newspaper is dead. Long live the American newspaper!

OK, so reports of the demise of daily journalism are a bit premature. But you can't open up the newspapers today without reading bad news about the papers.

Declining circulation and advertising revenues have forced newsrooms to trim their staffs, which means less real reporting. A few city papers have closed – the most recent victim was Denver's 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News – while others fill their pages with fluff pieces or wire-service stories. Put simply, it's getting too expensive to gather news.

So here's a novel idea: Let's get university professors to do it. For real. And, best of all, free of charge.

Remember, most professors aren't paid for what they write now. When I publish an article in an academic journal, I don't earn a cent. But I also don't engage more than a handful of readers, mainly fellow specialists in my own field.

It wasn't always that way. A hundred years ago, many of the leading lights in the social sciences and the humanities wrote for the popular press. If we want to revive the press – as well as our own struggling disciplines – we might look to their example.

Consider Robert E. Park, founder of the "Chicago School" of sociology and one of the most prominent intellectuals of the early 20th century. After earning his PhD in 1904 from the University of Heidelberg, in Germany, Park became secretary and press agent of the Congo Reform Association. Park's muckraking magazine articles exposed Belgium's vicious atrocities in the Congo, helping to turn world opinion against the colonial regime of King Leopold.

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