Governmental funding and regulation can ensure the industry’s continued existence.
When you’ve been robbed, you call the police. When you need to get somewhere close, you drive on roads or use public transportation. When you’re young, you attend school that is free, unless your parents choose to send you to a private school. They’re all public services because they are vital to your wellbeing and general participation in modern society. Why should journalism be any different?
I know, it’s bold of me to say, in a newspaper, that journalism is on the same level of importance as a police force. But Marshall McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. This is a newspaper, and it is providing you with an agora of sorts to hear debate, to learn about the world around you and to connect you with your community. It shapes the conversations you’ll have today — whether that paper is The Collegian or The Washington Post, you’ll likely glean something of relevance from a respectable news source all the time.
That’s because newspapers serve the public good. They report on daily events, about how highway construction is going or the voter turnout in the last local election. They also investigate and uncover corruption, incompetence and gross negligence. People can skim a paper and make informed decisions about whom to vote for and what decisions companies and the government are making that will directly impact them.
But does the importance of a business mean that it should be funded by the government? Yes, yes it does. Not only is journalism a public service, treating it as such is feasible.
There is no reason for government to be as actively combative toward journalism as it has been historically, even when journalists report on government wrongdoing. Government, after all, isn’t a monolith. Individuals work together to make decisions, heinous and helpful by turns. Journalism should elevate those who are helping the community and denounce those who tarnish its reputation and abuse its citizens.
I’m not suggesting that we incorporate a newspaper into the government. That would churn out propaganda, and we’ve certainly got enough of that floating around already. Government could, though, protect newspapers through regulation. Newspapers are being cut across the country; jobs are disappearing, office buildings are being sold off and the business is in a vulnerable position. Governments at every level should be pushing to protect remaining newspapers against this trend.
Further than legislation, government should act as if journalism were the public service it is. Newspapers deserve federal financial assistance in the same way that universities deserve funding. Journalism and higher education both serve to strengthen the U.S. by increasing the knowledge base of its citizens and connecting them with one another. And as the school model has already demonstrated, funding could be supplied without coming with undue restrictions.
Ideally, newspapers funded in whole or part by government money would function solely as a deliverer of news. While I do appreciate opinion pieces, this would eliminate an obvious point of contention. Many people confuse the opinions in commentary pieces with the views of the newspaper as a whole. Without that, there would only be the articles without obvious opinions (bar editorial remarks, although those are clearly marked in newspapers).
Some might still feel that a federally-funded newspaper would be too biased toward the topics it covered. But a good newspaper covers stories, regardless of subject matter, and people love to point at facts they don’t like and claim that those facts are biased because they are less than palatable. There’s never going to be a solution to that. The inelegance of the possible outcomes doesn’t make journalism less of a public service — it just means that there is more work to be done in the future to refine and strengthen the concept. And that is exactly what journalism exists to highlight.