March 28, 2012
Using the NPR Model to Save the MSM With Tax Subsidies
Brad A. Greenberg (J.D. 2012, UCLA), A Public Press? Evaluating the Viability of Government Subsidies for the Newspaper Industry, 19 UCLA Ent. L. Rev. 189 (2012):
Despite the availability of information from online news organizations and new media outlets, newspapers remain the primary contributor of new content to the marketplace of information and ideas — integral in setting the agenda for public discourse, connecting readers with their communities, reducing the costs of citizen oversight on elected officials, and producing investigative and local news reports. But newspaper economics have sparked massive reductions in editorial operations and threaten the press’s role in American democratic society. The strong public interest in preserving the newspaper industry should compel Congress to stabilize the press. Journalists, politicians, and legal scholars have discussed many possible solutions. This Comment evaluates the practical and constitutional questions raised by two potential public subsidy programs — direct government funding and indirect support by facilitating newspaper conversion to nonprofit status — and whether such programs could be administered without jeopardizing the Fourth Estate’s independence. This Comment argues that direct subsidies, though they could be tailored to survive constitutional challenge and to protect editorial independence, cannot deliver a feasible long-term solution. Indirect subsidies likely would only be available to newspapers following an amendment to the U.S. tax code and even then would provide limited benefit to qualifying newspapers until they have developed a fundraising base. Yet, this Comment concludes that subsidies could stabilize the press practically if Congress combined direct funding and tax-based incentives into a hybrid similar to that utilized by public radio.
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After only reading the headline, I immediately thought, "Heaven help us if that happens."
Just consider the insanity of this part of the paper. Read it two or three times, if necessary.
But newspaper economics have sparked massive reductions in editorial operations and threaten the press’s role in American democratic society. The strong public interest in preserving the newspaper industry should compel Congress to stabilize the press.
The role of the press hasn't changed -- only the means in which its content is distributed. If government funded the news and editorial content, then that content would favor the politicians who promised it the most money, just like it is already affected by the punishment/reward system of being denied/granted access to the President and inside scoops. Independence would be lost. And, why, why, why, do people who perceive problems screech, "The government needs to do something!!!!" Yeah, government fixes everything. (Great job on that health care thing.)
The real argument should be that the likes of PBS and NPR are no longer necessary. Many years ago, I had a small science show on what we called "educational television," which was established by the states to offer teaching content that could not be readily found on the only *three* networks at the time. Now, you can get similar educational content from multiple channels on cable. Mr. Wizard, children's programs, technology and language instructions, etc. can be found from multiple private sources.
The role of educational television was filled by private companies, so, those in charge, who mooched off the taxpayers and didn't want to lose that gravy train, remade "educational television" into "public television," and offered nothing new, excepting, of course, "holier than thou content," to appeal to those with self-image problems. If anything, we should be talking about how unnecessary it is for taxpayers to fund public television.
Paul, you tagged this post with "scholarship." For accuracy's sake, please remove that reference.
Okay, I'm finished. Sorry for the rant.
Posted by: Woody | Mar 28, 2012 9:24:22 AM
Would the author change his position if government had to fund Rush Limbaugh?
Posted by: Woody | Mar 28, 2012 10:00:12 AM
Woody, you nailed it.
PS: I hope you keep commenting on this blog -- I depend on you to provide fairness and balance!
Posted by: ColoComment | Mar 28, 2012 1:41:29 PM
Thanks, CC, but Paul has almost 15 million hits now, and I suspect that only about five of those don't hate me. If Paul doesn't post this himself, I'll share an article with you about a conservative professor being fired for telling a funny joke.
Posted by: Woody | Mar 28, 2012 10:15:38 PM
Thanks for the feedback, Woody. But I think you missed the point of the paper. (Actually, it's not clear to me whether you read the paper or just the abstract.)
The paper begins by going to lengths to argue why new media cannot replace the content that newspapers have traditionally produced. And rather than giving a knee-jerk reaction against government subsidies or blindly suggesting that the government get involved, the paper walks through the potential impact that either direct or indirect subsidies would have on editorial independence. I agree with you that, generally, direct subsidies would not serve the public interest in newspapers. However, even in a system of patronage, it's likely that newspapers would be able to maintain editorial independence, particularly if additional safeguards were put in place. (See pages 220-24).
And lest you think I'm clueless about how newspapers really work, I spent five years as a full-time newspaper reporter, writing for local papers, like the Los Angeles Daily News, and national publications, such as the Wall Street Journal.
Posted by: Brad A. Greenberg | Mar 29, 2012 1:23:14 PM