A world without journalism is not a world without political information. Instead it is a world where what passes for news is largely spin and self - interested propaganda - some astonishingly sophisticated and some bellicose, but the lion's share of dubious value. It is an environment that spawns cynicism, ignorance, demoralization, and apathy. The only "winner" are those that benefit from a quiescent and malleable people who "will be governed," rather than govern themselves.
Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that will Begin the World Again -
Bob McChesney & John Nichols
With the news last week the holding company which owns the Salt Lake Tribune is declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, all of us should pause to imagine what the decline of journalism means for our communities, states and our nation.
The Tribune isn't alone. The Deseret Morning News has had to lay off a number of reporters and reduce the resources it dedicates to gathering and reporting the news. The Rocky Mountain News recently ceased publication. Even the New York Times has had to borrow tens of millions to continue operating and may well be on the verge of collapse.
While the current economic crisis has certainly had an impact and the advent of the Internet has caused more Americans to seek their news online than by more traditional means, the decline of American journalism isn't a recent phenomenon according to Bob McChesney and John Nichols, authors of a new book out on the subject.
McChesney and Nichols were also recent guests on PBS' Now program and they are offering a solution which will ironically seem like a radical idea to many Americans; government subsidies for journalism. I say "ironically" because as McChesney and Nichols point out, for our founders the question wasn't should America subsidize print journalism, but how much. James Madison advocated giving newspapers free access to the US Postal Service while others argued for simply giving them the lowest postal rates possible.
At the time, newspapers relied on the postal system for delivery and for the first 75 years of our history delivery was heavily subsidized. In fact, 95% of the weight mail carriers delivered consisted of print journalism while print journalism generated only 12% of the revenue for the US Postal Service.
McChesney and Nichols point out most democratic nations today, particularly Scandinavia's social democracies, subsidize their free press just as we used to. Their media is thriving and does a great job holding the governments in those countries accountable.
McChesney and Nichols propose giving each adult American $200 that can be entirely deducted from their taxes they can use to contribute to any non-profit media source. Given the commercial media model is in collapse, they will likely mostly be non-profit in the future. It is estimated this $200 credit would cost us about $30 billion annually though by my calculations it would cost more if everyone actually used all $200, which would mean we have a citizenry far more engaged than we do.
By allowing the people to determine the media they wish to support with this type of tax credit without government interference, we can restore the investigative journalism and real news reporting essential to the survival of our Republic. This is definitely an idea worth exploring. All you have to do is imagine Utah without either the Salt Lake Tribune or Deseret Morning News, not to mention any of the many smaller community papers operating throughout our state, to understand the vital role these institutions play. Self governance without a strong and vibrant journalism is impossible and $30 billion or so is a small price to pay to save the Republic.