A Government Bailout for Journalism?

"In what may be a sign that we're approaching the time for last resorts, discussion of government funding for American journalism is gaining traction," writes Bill Mitchell of the Poynter Institute. "If government funding plans are among our options, let's explore them now, before the pressure's on to accept desperate measures without sufficient time to consider the consequences." In the Los Angeles Times, Geneva Overholser and Geoffrey Cowan point out that American journalism is suffering its own financial crisis, even though more people are consuming news than ever before. "Since the start of the republic," they note, "the government has found creative ways to support the press. Insisting that the far-flung American population needed to be connected and informed, George Washington and James Madison led the effort to pass the Postal Act of 1792, which heavily subsidized postal rates to encourage the dissemination of news throughout the land. ... Since then, the government has found countless ways to encourage or subsidize journalism, including the Federal Communication Commission's requirement that broadcasters cover the news as a condition of obtaining a license. Today, we need to think anew about how government can ensure that citizens get the information they need and want." As Harvard professor Jill Lepore pointed out in a recent overview of Colonial-era journalism, this isn't the first time that this problem has appeared. "Some struggles never end," she writes. "And it's not the newspaper that's forever at risk of dying and needing to be raised from the grave. It's the freedom of the press."