The house organ for elite media opinion, The Columbia Journalism Review, has unsurprisingly editorialized in favor of federal government assistance to the journalism industry, under the nausea-inducing headline, "A Helping Hand."
We are not in favor of a bailout for the newspaper business, and we certainly don't support subsidies that would simply prop up the status quo. But it seems increasingly clear that, at least in the short term, sustaining the kind of accountability journalism that our society needs—and that newspapers have been the chief producers of—will require some creative help from Uncle Sam. And not because newspapers failed to adapt to the digital age. Ultimately, this isn't about newspapers. [...]
These are worthy ideas that should be part of the debate, but most important they are ideas that treat journalism as an indispensable public good, on par with our transportation infrastructure, the social safety net, public universities, etc. Government has always subsidized the press in this country, starting with legislation in 1792 that established below-cost mail rates for newspapers. Over the years, some subsidies have worked well, others less so. But the idea that a purely commercial media alone can continue to deliver the journalism we need is becoming difficult to swallow. If we don't get beyond the rational but outdated fear of government help for accountability journalism—if we just let the market sort it out—this vital public good will continue to decline.
But is "this vital public good" really declining? Is the net total of "accountability journalism" produced in the United States less than it was last year, five years ago, 10 years ago? My hunch is that it's not. More imporantly, I have *never* seen any subsidy-seeking, woe-is-media type make a good-faith attempt to document an answer to that question. Instead, they point to job and content losses at the most elite outlets, even express open contempt for the fact that news now comes from nontraditional sources (that is, when not complaining about "media monopoly"), then throw their hands up in the air.
Reason on journalism bailouts here. Link via the Twitter feed of Jay Rosen, who asks: "If taxpayers are to support accountability journalism then how is journalism to be held accountable by taxpayers?"