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The case against government support of journalism
Posted at 4:09 PM on January 30, 2008 by Jon Gordon (1 Comments)
Today on Future Tense (RealAudio - MP3 - iTunes) I presented part two of a discussion on the idea that as the Internet accelerates the economic problems of mainstream journalism, the government should provide subsidies in an effort to protect the public interest.
Here's an edited transcript of my conversation with Ralph Whitehead, Jr. of the j-school at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, who argues that new government subsidies would lead to press controls.
WHITEHEAD: As sympathetic as I am to the idea that we need good journalism and that it's an important foundation for democracy, I think it's awfully tough to say that the solution for a financially-depleted press is a government-controlled press. If there were a way of achieving government funding without introducing the danger of government control, the government solution might be workable.
wavLength: Some folks point to the BBC as a model that works. The BBC is widely considered to be one of the best journalistic organizations in the world and it gets substantial funding from the government.
WHITEHEAD: As close as the American tradition and the British tradition have been in many ways, the relationship between the government and the press has been different than the relationship between the government and the press here. There's a much greater freedom of expression in this country. It's one thing to import American Idol from Great Britain, it's something else to import the British laws and subsidies for the press. This is not to disrespect the BBC as a news gathering enterprise, but I don't know that we can simply pick up the British model and drop it in America.
wavLength: So what will work then? It's true we're seeing a lot of innovative journalism on the Internet, but by and large a lot of great work isn't being done anymore and the watchdog role of the press has been diminished because of its revenue problems. How do we pump up journalism without turning to the government?
WHITEHEAD: I honestly don't know. It's an extremely important question. It is my own belief that there are certain forms of watchdog journalism that are so expensive and require such an institutional backing that there is a danger that those forms could die out, particularly at the local level.
I think this is a very pessimistic prediction of what role the internet might play in the future of investigative journalism, and what it has already been able to accomplish. There are a lot of people right now claiming that online journalism will lead to the death of traditional news media, but I think it will be more likely to lead to a greater synthesis of the two forms. At www.TheIssue.com we have been striving to innovate the momentum growing behind citizen journalism movement by employing a traditional newspaper format and old fashioned editorial work to create a trustworthy, reliable source of information comprised of eloquent, blogger generated articles. There are great blogs out there, you just need to wade through a lot of noise to find the real gems.