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Is Local News Next in Line for a Bailout?

by Ken McIntyre

If you liked how the government shoved its nose into high finance, “green” energy, automaking and health care, you’re gonna love what it does with your local news.

That’s the prospect opened by a new study from an old-line bastion of objectivity, the Columbia School of Journalism, on how the storied trade of news reporting won’t survive unless Team Obama comes to the rescue.

Now “at risk,” former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. and Columbia communication professor Michael Schudson melodramatically declare in an op-ed in today’s Post, is “reporting that holds accountable those with power and influence.”

The way to keep those powerful government and business players honest, Downie and Schudson essentially conclude in pushing Columbia’s report, is to give news organizations freezers full of cash from government agencies and business-supported foundations.

To be fair (a quaint concept), “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” — as the study is titled — calls for financial and other support for local news reporting from all levels of government as well as private philanthropists.

But taxpayers know the drill by now. They’re hiding their wallets. President Obama already has said he’d take a look at ideas for such government intervention in newspapers.

Yup, those life-giving subsidies ought to keep the news outfits fearless, independent, fair and balanced. No need for any self-respecting, God-fearing American to take a financial risk selling a product or service in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Let the government catch you before you fail — er, fall.

But the government, as Heritage’s Karen Campbell has written, needs to focus not on such “investments” but on providing a strong economic base for entrepreneurs.

“Given a stable foundation,” she argues, “private individuals can invest and produce the vibrant standard of living that meets the changing needs and wants of society.”

What the prodigal mainstream news outlets most need to do is behave once again as if they have principles worth fighting for. Plenty of entrepreneurs – from Rupert Murdoch on the right to Herbert Sandler on the left — show themselves willing to invest in the emerging new journalism.

Yet Downie and Schudson blithely insist “the marketplace can no longer be expected to sufficiently supply” what they deem to be “reliable financial support” and “strong professional leadership.” Says who, gentlemen?

As the Media Research Center’s Brent Baker blogs:

Echoing the rationale for ObamaCare, the duo contended the fate of the legacy media is a governmental responsibility.”

A recent report from a free-market perspective, by the Media Research Center’s Business and Media Institute, suggests better ways than bailouts.

A wise Washington newspaper editor used to delight in repeating an old newsroom adage to his reporters: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

But if this crew gets their way, the reporters’ rule of thumb might as well be: “If your government benefactor says there’s nothing to see, then move along.”


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