Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols discuss their new book The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again with NOW’s David Brancaccio “about the perils of a shrinking news media landscape, and their bold proposal to save journalism with government subsidies.”
They discuss the idea of providing citizens with vouchers with which individuals can then decide where to place their money. The 23-minute video is worth watching.
A preview of the book appeared earlier in the Nation, including these key passages:
Our founders never thought that freedom of the press would belong only to those who could afford a press. They would have been horrified at the notion that journalism should be regarded as the private preserve of the Rupert Murdochs and John Malones. The founders would not have entertained, let alone accepted, the current equation that seems to say that if rich people determine there is no good money to be made in the news, then society cannot have news.
Here is more:
The founders regarded the establishment of a press system, the Fourth Estate, as the first duty of the state. Jefferson and Madison devoted considerable energy to explaining the necessity of the press to a vibrant democracy. The government implemented extraordinary postal subsidies for the distribution of newspapers. It also instituted massive newspaper subsidies through printing contracts and the paid publication of government notices, all with the intent of expanding the number and variety of newspapers. When Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s he was struck by the quantity and quality of newspapers and periodicals compared with France, Canada and Britain. It was not an accident. It had little to do with “free markets.” It was the result of public policy.
Here is another piece of their argument which is worthy of deep thought for those of us, including me, who are deeply worried about government subsidizes of the news media:
But government support for the press is not merely a matter of history or legal interpretation. Complaints about a government role in fostering journalism invariably overlook the fact that our contemporary media system is anything but an independent “free market” institution. The government subsidies established by the founders did not end in the eighteenth–or even the nineteenth–century. Today the government doles out tens of billions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies, including free and essentially permanent monopoly broadcast licenses, monopoly cable and satellite privileges, copyright protection and postal subsidies. (Indeed, this magazine has been working for the past few years with journals of the left and right to assure that those subsidies are available to all publications.) Because the subsidies mostly benefit the wealthy and powerful, they are rarely mentioned in the fictional account of an independent and feisty Fourth Estate. Both the rise and decline of commercial journalism can be attributed in part to government policies, which scrapped the regulations and ownership rules that had encouraged local broadcast journalism and allowed for lax regulation as well as tax deductions for advertising–policies that greatly increased news media revenues.