(Editor’s note: This is a reprint from a 2009 article)
I read an opinion piece in a national newspaper which examined the idea of public funding for journalism.
At issue was the decline of American newspapers and broadcast news and the piece looked at the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to find ways to prevent a collapse of communication in this country which could deprive the American people of essential information.
I’ve seen the decline of the news industry first hand, as daily newspapers across the country have withered or completely died in recent years. While this has been devastating to journalists, it has also taken its toll on news and how its gathered and communicated to the public.
The article indicated there are only a handful of U.S journalists who now cover China — a region considered vital to the future economic growth of our nation.
The article goes on to talk about the idea of public funding for newspapers and television and whether such journalism can be trusted if it is state sponsored.
My initial feeling is no, it cannot be trusted because the press is there to keep government in check.
If the press ends up relying on that same government to support it financially, I can already see potential conflicts.
Like the art exhibit funded with public money that displays work considered morally offensive and is subsequently shut down by politicians who say it is an improper use of taxpayer dollars. What happens when the press run with a story considered “immoral” by politicians, or a story exposing some sort of government impropriety — is that same government going to step in and censor that story?
I would also be concerned with special interest groups supporting the press because again, there is no guarantee the funding wouldn’t come with strings attached. So do we let newspapers and television outlets die, or should the freedom of the press be sacrificed?
The article concluded it may be possible through “a carefully designed system with peer review of grant-making, a strong culture of independence, and the protections afforded by the First Amendment” to allow for some form of public subsidy of the American media.
It apparently works with public funding of universities and research, but I fear the government’s desire to control the information that’s out there might be too great a temptation for some politicians and special interests to keep their hands off a free press.
The public subsidy of the American press is something I’d never thought about before and it’s an idea I’d certainly like to hear more about.
I’m all for saving newspapers from their continuing economic slide, but as watchdogs we’ve all got to be aware the solution to the decline of newspapers may come at too hefty a price.
Gary Gould is the Managing Editor. Contact him at 810-452-2650 or by email at email@example.com.