If you are interested in this, check out Five more reasons government shouldn’t subsidize journalism, responding to another piece by McChesney and Nichols.
This madness has to stop. Intelligent people have to stop thinking that government funding is the solution to the economic challenges facing newspapers.
I love newspapers. I hope they survive and thrive (again) for the rest of my life and beyond. If that delivery system fails, I hope healthy new business and journalism models emerge and stabilize to continue the important roles that newspapers have played for their communities and the nation: informing us of the news and playing the watchdog role on government and other powerful institutions.
My desire to contribute to that healthy future for journalism drove my development of my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection, a proposal for a prosperous business model to support strong community journalism organizations. Maybe my plan will work, maybe it won’t. Maybe several different models will support journalism in the future.
But government cannot and must not play a significant role in saving newspapers. Leonard Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson suggested government subsidies earlier this month in their report, The Reconstruction of American Journalism, about which I and others have already commented considerably. Now Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, co-founders of Free Press, have written in the Washington Post that journalism needs government subsidies.
No, no, no, no, no. Never. This is a ridiculous idea and it must stop here. These men are all intelligent and are giving this a lot of thought and they write well, but they are wrong and we cannot let these dangerous ideas start gathering momentum. (I have emailed Nichols and McChesney, inviting their response. Schudson responded twice last week.)
Here’s why journalism doesn’t need and shouldn’t want government subsidies:
- Journalists must be watchdogs and no dog bites the hand that feeds it.
- Journalism is not suffering as much as traditional media companies are. Yes, the massive job cuts in newsrooms are disturbing. But we also are seeing an energetic response from entrepreneurs and philanthropists that is producing a stunning array of new journalism organizations. Anyone who can’t see potential in enterprises such as Politico, ProPublica, West Seattle Blog, MinnPost and The Batavian is deliberately uninformed and should not be taken seriously.
- Postal subsidies from our nation’s early founding (cited as a precedent by Downie/Schudson and McChesney/Nichols) are irrelevant. We had one communication medium then, newspapers. In today’s world of multiple forms of print, broadcast and digital communication, federal subsidies would decide winners and losers, protecting inefficient companies and creating huge obstacles for entrepreneurs. (Update: on this point, see the comments below, as well as Dan Gillmor’s outstanding blog post: The only “journalism” subsidy we need is in bandwidth.
- The federal government can’t afford to bail out newspapers. Have you been paying attention? The feds already bailed out undeserving banks and automobile manufacturers and are trying to figure out how to fix our health-care system. The taxpayers can’t afford to bail out undeserving media companies and journalism can’t afford to be dependent on a debt-burdened government.
- It’s just wrong. If government funds, government will regulate. Freedom of the press has to include freedom for the press to fail.