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Journalism for Democracy

Journalism for Democracy

Géraldine Muhlmann, Jean Birrell (Translated by)

ISBN: 978-0-745-64473-8

Dec 2010, Polity

288 pages

Select type: Paperback

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Journalists are commonly denounced from all sides – a shameful, deceitful trade, a profession sold out to the powerful which gives a biased and misleading picture of the world. Behind the condemnation one can often detect a desire for reform, a feeling that good journalism is too important for the health of democracy to be left to languish among the tabloids. Yet the discussion rarely gets beyond the well-worn formulas of free speech and the Fourth Estate. The question of the political significance of journalism is never seriously addressed, and the question of what journalism should be is rarely posed.

This important new book by Géraldine Muhlmann addresses these gaps in our understanding and goes a long way to filling them. Putting aside the hasty diatribes against journalism, Muhlmann asks the fundamental questions: what should journalism be? What ideals should it serve? What do seeing and showing the world mean today? What direction should journalism take in order to emerge from its current crisis?

Drawing on a rich tradition of philosophical thought, Muhlmann breathes new life into the old debate about journalism and its role today. Avoiding the twin pitfalls of destructive criticism and naive celebration, she sees a double task for a reinvigorated journalism: to allow space for conflict but also to foster unity within the political community. In the practice of journalism we see the enigma of democracy itself: the coexistence of two stages, one of action and one of representations, the latter offering a symbolic resolution to the conflicts that animate the former.


Chapter 1. Critiquing journalism: a difficult exercise.

1. The public: hostage to journalists.

2. Journalists: hostages to the public.

3. Two poles, two risks. What next?

Chapter 2. The notion of 'public', and what can be expected of it.

1. The premises of the notion of 'public': liberal England in the seventeenth century.

2. Kant and the principle of publicity (Offentlichkeit).

3. French Enlightenment and American Enlightenment.

4. The denunciation of the naiveties of the notion of 'public': the problem of the domination of the 'homogenous' in democracy.

Chapter 3. A first ideal-critique: the journalist-flâneur.

1. Varying the gaze.

2. An ambiguous and frustrating ideal.

3. Fruitless exasperation: Karl Kraus as a modern Sisyphus.

Chapter 4. A second ideal-critique: the journalist-at-war.

1. The journalism of the young Karl Marx (1842-43).

2. The crisis of 1843: towards a radical critique of public space.

3. Journalism, an ongoing problem: Marx as journalist-at-war.

Chapter 5. A third ideal-critique: journalism as a 'conflictual unifying' of the democratic community.

1. Gabriel Tarde and an answer to Gustave Le Bon.

2. The sociologists of Chicago (R. E. Park, H. M. Hughes) faced with the reality of an 'integrating' journalist.

3. The risk of myth.

4. Towards a 'conflictual unifying'. Two journalistic acts.

Chapter 6. The limits inherent to the figure of the 'spectator', and what they tell us about democracy.

1. The journalism of decentring as the search for the limits of 'seeing'.

2. The Sartrean critique of the position of the spectator.

3. From the gaze to listening. Jean Hatzfeld on the Rwandan genocide.


"Muhlmann's insightful analysis raises the reader's ability to understand the problematic of journalism in contemporary democracies."
  • Muhlmann is highly regarded as one of the outstanding young scholars of journalism and political communication.
  • Polity recently published A Political History of Journalism by the same author. This book is designed as a companion volume; it focuses on the relation of journalism to democracy.
  • The book offers a theoretically sophisticated, historically informed account of the close but often troubled relation between journalism and democracy, from the origins of journalism in the 19th century to the present. It deals critically with the work of key thinkers who’ve dealt with this issue, both in Europe and in the US.
  • This book will appeal to all students of journalism and media studies, as well as those of sociology and politics.