Should we subsidize good journalism?

The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again, by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, has just been published. It makes a convincing case that journalism is a public good, with broad social benefits, including being necessary for democracy.

They also show how good journalism is under threat from a variety of forces. One is media consolidation, meaning that a few huge corporations control most of our media. Another is that our reliance on the Internet is radically changing business models, making it increasingly difficult to support investigative journalism. Moreover, whether the Internet can remain open, diverse, and democratic is very uncertain. Meanwhile, support for public media is waning, especially in the US, which spends only a tiny percentage of what other nations do for non-corporate media.

To address these problems, they propose what some might consider to be a radical proposal. But it’s actually quite in line with traditional government initiatives in areas such as defense, education, transportation, etc., which support vital services that the market can’t supply. Moreover, their proposal operates through free market mechanisms, without requiring, or even allowing government control over media content. It’s an innovative idea, one whose importance goes far beyond just saving the local newspaper.

Their proposal contains four key elements:

  1. free postage for any publication, with less than 20% of its pages in advertising
  2. up to $200 individual tax deduction for a newspaper subscription
  3. a viable school newspaper and radio station for every middle school, high school and college, so that young people not only read the news, but also produce it
  4. increased spending on public and community broadcasting

I might add other items, such as broadening the youth production aspect to include other sites in which that occurs, such as community centers and libraries, or find some way to support local book production as well.

The proposal could ensure a diversity of news sources, with support for those who produce the news. It would immediately move us beyond reliance on a handful of media conglomerates, while still allowing their operation, for those who so chose. The cost is no more than that supported by other nations with advanced economies. It’s well worth considering for anyone concerned with maintaining a modern democracy.

Nichols and McChesney, are co-founders, along with Josh Silver, of Free Press, which works for net neutrality and has launched a major campaign to save the news.

References

Nichols, John, & McChesney, Robert W. (2009, March 18). The death and life of great American newspapers. The Nation.

2 thoughts on “Should we subsidize good journalism?

  1. That’s a great idea. I think we’ve seen through Youth Community Informatics (aka Youth Community Inquiry) that there’s actually more direct benefit to youth when the activity is not focused on them alone.

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  2. I appreciate your explicit mention of broadening the youth angle to ventures outside of school, as too often it seems that when schools have journalism classes, the news focus is almost always on issues related to their schools–that is, the “community” perspective is very narrow, and we don’t see much evidence of the journalists putting their school issues into a broader context.

    I might suggest that rather than separating the youth into their own special category, it would be better to find ways to integrate them into broader, intergenerational, community media endeavors of some kind–keeping in mind that all community voices, including those of youth, would need to be respected and supported.

    So, rather than youth alone: youth reporters team up with, oh, I don’t know, say, residents in a retirement home (just off the top of my head!), or with other local community groups that are not necessarily explicitly youth-focused.

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