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The American press is beleaguered and distracted by the economic crisis it faces. This is understandable. The threat is existential. Platforms are squeezing the press of profits, hedge funds are siphoning off what’s left, and news deserts are expanding. But, in fact, there is another crisis afoot that may be greater: a political one.

Democracy is eroding. Autocracy is eclipsing it globally. The days of a free press may be numbered.

The American press likes to think of itself as exceptional and immune. It is not. Since at least the founding of the Republic, political philosophers have agreed that democracy requires a free press. But does a free press require democracy? More pragmatically and the focus of this Article: how does the American press remain free as democracy erodes?

The answer is that freedom will only persist with great difficulty and effort. This Article offers up a roadmap for that effort. It is concrete about just what pathologies the press needs to overcome and how.

Specifically, journalists need to reject a lengthy history of American press exceptionalism and embrace globalism with respect to both journalistic methods and press-protecting law. They need to reject Darwinian competition for news and collaborate at various levels including distribution as a hedge against censorship. Finally, journalists need to reject the siren song of reader desire as divined through data and instead re-think what it means to inform, serve, and connect citizens of a democracy.

Publication Citation

U.C. Davis Law Review, Forthcoming 2022.