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10. Revive journalism with a stimulus package and public optionIn late March, Congress passed and President Trump signed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package, including direct payments of $1,200 per adult and more than $500 billion for large corporations. Before passage, Craig Aaron, the president of Free Press, argued that a stimulus package for journalism was also urgently needed. "In the face of this pandemic, the public needs good, economically secure journalists more than ever," separating fact from fiction, and holding politicians and powerful institutions accountable," Aaron wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review.
Aaron's organization, Free Press, placed journalism's needs at $5 billion in immediate emergency funds, "less than half of one percent of a trillion-dollar recovery package" and asked that "Congress put a foundation in place to help sustain journalism over the long term."
Aaron presented a three-pronged plan: First, "Doubling federal funds for public media," not for Downton Abbey reruns, but "earmarked specifically for emergency support, education, and especially local journalism." For example, "The Los Angeles Unified School District teamed up with PBS SoCal/KCET to offer instruction over the airwaves while kids are out of school, with separate channels focused on different ages."
Second, "Direct support for daily and weekly newsrooms," which have lost tens of thousands of jobs over the past three decades. "Direct, emergency subsidies of say $25,000 per newsgathering position could make sure reporters everywhere stay on the local COVID beat," he wrote. "Just $625 million would help retain 25,000 newsroom jobs."
Third, "New investments in the news we need ... for a major investment in services that provide community information [and] to support new positions, outlets, and approaches to newsgathering, [which could] prioritize places and populations that the mainstream outlets have never served well."
Arguing that a "resilient and community-centered media system" is necessary to get through the pandemic, Aaron concluded, "Now is the time to act. We need significant public investments in all corners of the economy, and journalism is no exception."
In an article in Jacobin, media scholar Victor Pickard advanced a more robust proposal, for $30 billion annually (less than 1.4 % of the coronavirus stimulus package, Project Censored noted).
"On the question of cost, we must first remind ourselves that a viable press system isn't a luxury — it's a necessity," he wrote. "Similar to a classic 'merit good,' journalism isn't a 'want,' but a 'need. ... Democratic nations around the globe heavily subsidize the media while enjoying democratic benefits that put the U.S. to shame."
Writing for The Guardian, just after the McClatchy newspaper chain bankruptcy was announced in February, Pickard noted that, "For many areas across the U.S., there's simply no commercial option. The market has failed us." And thus, "With market failure, journalism's survival requires public options."
The need was fundamental.
"All foundational democratic theories — including the first amendment itself — assume a functional press system. The fourth estate's current collapse is a profound social problem."
And he suggested a broad range of funding possibilities:
We could raise funds from taxing platforms like Facebook and Google, placing levees on communication devices, and repurposing international broadcasting subsidies. Other sources include spectrum sales and individual tax vouchers. We could leverage already-existing public infrastructures such as post offices, libraries, and public broadcasting stations to provide spaces for local news production.
"While corporate news outlets have reported the ongoing demise of newspapers and especially local news sources, they have rarely covered proposals such as Aaron's and Pickard's to revitalize journalism through public funding," Project Censored wrote.
Paul Rosenberg is an activist turned journalist who has written for the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, Al Jazeera English, Salon.com, and numerous other periodicals. He's also written more than 300 book reviews. He has worked as an editor at Random Lengths News since 2002.
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