CJR editorial makes case for (smart) gov’t support of journalism

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) editors make it clear they don’t support a bailout for the newspaper business or “subsidies that would simply prop up the status quo,” but in a recent editorial, they make a case for certain kinds of government support for journalism.

In the November/December editorial, titled “A helping hand,” the editors wrote:

“…it seems increasingly clear that, at least in the short term, sustaining the kind of accountability journalism that our society needs—and that newspapers have been the chief producers of—will require some creative help from Uncle Sam. And not because newspapers failed to adapt to the digital age. Ultimately, this isn’t about newspapers.

“Omnibus newspapers were, as Clay Shirky noted in a talk he gave in September at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, historical accidents. The fact that for decades we had commercial entities (newspapers) producing a critical public good (accountability journalism) was the result of unique circumstances that no longer exist—namely, newspapers made money by selling consumers to advertisers, who had few options for reaching them on a mass scale. This allowed newspapers to charge advertisers inflated rates, and use that revenue to pay for accountability journalism that by itself wouldn’t have attracted enough readers to satisfy the advertisers.”

The editorial later concludes:

“…the idea that a purely commercial media alone can continue to deliver the journalism we need is becoming difficult to swallow. If we don’t get beyond the rational but outdated fear of government help for accountability journalism—if we just let the market sort it out—this vital public good will continue to decline.”