Opinion, please: publicly funded journalism

I ran across a very interesting article on this possibility a few days ago. The author, John-Henry Doucette, formerly worked at The Virginian-Pilot and provides an argument that it is time for publicly funded newspapers journalism. He concludes:

If we don’t consider various ways to protect public-interest news gathering in the U.S., including public subsidies, our “news” will be increasingly limited to the information that governments and corporations choose to release through armies of flaks.  In time, our community and our nation will suffer the consequences.

So, dear readers, do you think we should have publicly funded journalism? If so, why? Of not, why not?

23 thoughts on “Opinion, please: publicly funded journalism

  1. It is time to stop littering and to better utilize the internet. The news paper is an outdated means of communication and if it came into existence at the same time the pc was developed there is little likelyhood it would do any better than it does not. Public funding, no way. Newspapers on welfare does not help this country or its inhabitants. The internet Vivian, its the future.. the paper is a throwback to horse and buggy days and who needs publicly funded buggy whips?

    1. James, I like to read the actual paper. Just like I don’t like reading a book on a kindle. I look at a computer screen all day I sure don’t want to do it on my down time. PS I recycle my paper – no litter.

  2. Gosh, you forced me to check my calendar to be sure it wasn’t the first of April all over again.

    Seriously, are you serious about turning journalists into house-organ hacks?

    Lord knows, journalism is bad enough already.

  3. I was at a meeting this year where it was mentioned a good idea was a sort of toll card for internet story’s. The theory was as a reader if you clicked on a link you would pay a few cents to read a story. The benefit of this is the papers would still have the money and staff to research and verify information. So if you are going to a source you trust then you know your few cents is worth while. Everyone reading this has know some site that puts information up that then later turns out to be wrong. The choice to a user like me is reading the less verified site which is free and then doing the research myself. Or paying a few cents for an article that comes from a source that verifies its work.

  4. I don’t like the idea of public funding. But, since we can’t find a business model that works on the Internet, which expects content to be free, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw newpapers in the future owned by private charitable foundations that ran the papers as a public service.
    Ads based Internet sites won’t work because it turns out that the only form of advertising more useless than print advertising is Internet advertising;-)

  5. No, no, no, no, no.

    I don’t need my tax dollars paying for the newspaper. None. Not one.

    No welfare for writers?

    If you think newspapers slant towards big government now, wait until big government pays their salaries.

    1. Hey Brian.

      I understand the sentiment, but you’re not speaking to the essay I wrote.

      I certain share some concerns that are probably consistent with what you, Kerry and others have, but I just to be clear that the essay I wrote is purposefully not about public funding for newspapers.

      I also suggest you consider the examples in the essay. While imperfect, and while I have many real concerns about public funding, they show how publicly funded media already pushes back against “big government” in favor of editorial independence.

      Hope all is well.

      Best, John.

      (And thanks, Vivian!)

      1. Silly me. I thought an article called “The Case for Publicly Funded Journalism” was giving the case for publicly funded journalism.

        What was I thinking?

  6. In the UK, the world’s largest and oldest broadcasting corporation’s domestic operations are funded by a television license fee set by parliament and collected annually by the government. Yet the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news service continues to enjoy a reputation as the globe’s premier news outlet for the reliability of their information, the quality of the “drill down” and the level of detail they can communicate, and the objectivity of their reporting.

    I don’t necessarily buy the hypothetical argument that a reporter’s objectivity is imperiled when they know that public money is backing their paycheck — and anyone who wants to disagree should first explain why those same journalists are any less ethically challenged when reporting on the business practices of corporations who back their paychecks by purchasing ad space. It seems to me that journalism’s objectivity is challenged less by the revenue model and more by the corporate-driven mentality which believes that the drama of on-air editorializing makes for better television, as well as the degree to which all reporters are brought up coveting access.

    I don’t necessarily know that any of that means that public-funding is the best answer, I just don’t believe it’s the worst. Contrary to Kerry Dougherty’s opinion, I’m not sure that it necessarily always follows that the private sector will do it better.

    …as evidenced by the fact that Kerry Dougherty still has a column. Seriously, Kerry, if the Virginian-Pilot as a private-sector entity really was more-responsive to my needs as an information consumer, they’d probably know that I already have one sanctimonious white suburban soccer mom in my life who’s more than willing to give me her unsolicited opinion on any topic regardless of her expertise in the field at hand, frequently and at length. And I have to listen to her because I love her. And also because she birthed me, and this (I am told) entitles her to burden me with her insight into any matter at will until one of us dies.

    Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but I know you’ll agree that it had to be said.

  7. Government-funded (I prefer this to the euphemism “publicly-funded”) “journalism” isn’t journalism; it’s propaganda.

    After all, isn’t “publicly-funded journalism” what Germany had?

  8. Some in the journalism business want to be declared 501c(3) “non-profits.”

    What we should be doing is restricting the definition of non-profits to only those agencies who actually feed, clothe, house or provide medical care for the needy.

    With every new 501c(3), that is yet another tax burden shifted to local home owners and corporations.

    In Richmond, much of the downtown real estate produces nothing; no tax revenue and no useful goods or services.

  9. The news agencies real problem is that they have given up on investigative journalism as too costly and now take direct quotes from government and business officials without doing their homework. I don’t see how public funds will improve this situation. I admit that the BBC does some great stories, but if you listen to the messages in the BBC’s coverage it still slants towards being pro-establishment and anti-populist. See the great BBC segment online called “The Century of Self” as an example.

    At this time I trust blogs much more than I trust the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc.

  10. Seriously, James? You trust blogs more than WSJ, NYT. etc?

    That’s a lot of faith.

    I’m willing to listen to the conversation on publicly funding newspapers and am not so quick among my conservative friends to dismiss the idea.

    I can see that there MIGHT be some benefits.

  11. JR, I do trust blogs more. Zerohedge, Karl Denninger’s Market Ticker, and Yves Smith’s NakedCapitalism.com have given me more insight on what’s going on than the papers and major TV news outlets. And they often use primary documents from government and corporate sources as the basis of their commentary.

    If I want to know what’s going on locally the last place I go to is the Daily Press. Typically I go to Vivian Paige’s site, Tertium Quids, Blue Virginia, Bearing Drift, and James River Journal.

    1. OK…I can buy four out of those five state/regional blogs. Can you guess which one I wouldn’t include?

      I also agree with Steve – having a source of revenue to continue the publication is vital. Without it, it’s not a business, but a hobby – which is exactly what we are right now and perhaps as far as we can go.

  12. actually James, the reason they can’t do investigative reporting is that their main revenue sources, particularly classified advertising, have been killed off by the Internet. If you’re trying to run a business that’s losing revenue, something has to get cut. One of the first and most vital things that got cut was foreign bureaus for big papers and any out of town bureaus for smaller papers.

  13. I read McChesney’s book. I was predisposed to his solution but remained unconvinced after reading it that his solution would be workable. One need only look at the attacks on NPR or the Smithsonian to know that any funding that can be controlled by elected officials is problematic. It influences the product. (And yes, corporate funding does, too.)

    There may be other ways of funding that insulates journalists from that, but I don’t see them being adequate.

    The problems of the MSM are largely self-inflicted. It has been cowed over the past 30 years by the right-wing that it has resorted to “he said, she said” journalism so that no one is offended. Newspapers now give each argument equal time whether or not it has equal merit (see climate debate). Readers don’t value this kind of journalism. They don’t learn anything, so they don’t read it.

    There is a gaping hole that could be filled and valued: honest discussion of the issues with journalists willing to write, after a quote from a politician or other vested interest, “But that’s not true.” After all, truth is what journalism is supposed to give us.

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