It’s a Colorado snow day. No one’s at the office. Call anyone and you get the same voice mail: “I’m not here. There was a blizzard yesterday. What’s the matter with you?”
Translation: It’s a perfect day to dedicate to contemplating democracy and the role of the press! If you want to know what happened to The Rocky Mountain News, for example, sit back and dive into the chunky piece longtime journalism / media watchers Robert McChesney and John Nichols wrote for The Nation last week.
Here’s a taste:
Our founders never thought that freedom of the press would belong only to those who could afford a press. They would have been horrified at the notion that journalism should be regarded as the private preserve of the Rupert Murdochs and John Malones. The founders would not have entertained, let alone accepted, the current equation that seems to say that if rich people determine there is no good money to be made in the news, then society cannot have news. Let’s find a king and call it a day.
Complaints about a government role in fostering journalism invariably overlook the fact that our contemporary media system is anything but an independent “free market” institution … Today the government doles out tens of billions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies, including free and essentially permanent monopoly broadcast licenses, monopoly cable and satellite privileges, copyright protection and postal subsidies … Because the subsidies mostly benefit the wealthy and powerful, they are rarely mentioned in the fictional account of an independent and feisty Fourth Estate. Both the rise and decline of commercial journalism can be attributed in part to government policies, which scrapped the regulations and ownership rules that had encouraged local broadcast journalism and allowed for lax regulation as well as tax deductions for advertising–policies that greatly increased news media revenues.
The truth is that government policies and subsidies already define our press system. The only question is whether they will be enlightened and democratic, as in the early Republic, or corrupt and corrosive to democracy, as has been the case in recent decades. The answer will be determined in coming years as part of what is certain to be a bruising battle: media companies and their lobbying groups will argue against the “heavy hand of government” while defending existing subsidies. They will propose more deregulation, hoping to capitalize on the crisis to remove the last barriers to print, broadcast and digital consolidation in local markets–creating media “company towns,” where competition is eliminated, along with journalism jobs, in pursuit of better returns for investors. Enlightened elected officials, media unions and public interest and community groups that recognize the role of robust journalism are going to have to step up to argue for a real fix.
It’s not just a R.I.P. story either. The authors actually propose some solutions … Now, is it time to shovel the walk again?