Protecting Democracy with the Local Journalism Initiative

by | Dec 1, 2021 | News

Local news media “have been the foundation of the American free press, and political democracy, since 1776,” providing the “lion’s share of original reporting upon which all other news media depend.” But local journalism of the past 200 years has seen a rapid decline over the recent two decades, as the business model of commercial journalism that supported them collapsed.

“The ramifications are increasingly clear, and endlessly depressing,” say Robert McChesney and John Nichols of the Local Journalism Initiative.

“It is not simply that functional self-government is impossible without credible journalism with all that forebodes; it is that local newspapers have provided the social glue that brought communities to life, as places where people see themselves as participating in a joint enterprise with people they know and understand and care about. That is disintegrating.”

For these reasons, journalism in the United States needs government funding to support independent, competitive, professional local news media. Federal money remains the only viable option when the market has shown it can’t maintain existing media, let alone foster a renewal of speak-truth-to-power journalism. The government can’t be allowed to pick who gets the money, or censor media — the people must self-govern and make of it what they will.

The Local Journalism Initiative has outlined a plan, published at Columbia Journalism Review, for how policymakers in Washington can best act to create these outcomes. It begins with a lump sum disbursed to every county in the U.S. annually, based on the county’s population to pay for nonprofit journalism within that county. Once every three years, residents over 18 will be given three “votes” to decide how their county’s funds should be distributed to three different LJI candidates in their country. Three votes per person will help ensure multiple well-funded news media can flourish.

Eschewing ownership by large chains with little interest in community or journalism, “the LJI will allow for a renewal of the diversity and competitive vigor that is essential for a muscular free press.”

The proposal is meant to jumpstart a crucial policy debate to revitalize the nation’s news media. To read a longer version that includes citations as well as much more material on media economics, the history of journalism, the Constitution and the free press, and important international comparisons, please click here.

 

Photo by Armin Djuhic / Unsplash.

More from The Edge

The Racism of American Capital Punishment

The death penalty in America always incites controversy. Last year, Alabama took three hours to administer their lethal injection drugs. Idaho had to pause an execution for the lack of those drugs. And two people on death row were exonerated. The larger long-term...

Academic Austerity Survival Kit: 15 Ways to Make It Through

It’s bad, really bad, in higher education these days. Whether the pandemic is over or ongoing, its continuing impact has catapulted colleges and universities into a maelstrom of student disengagement, faculty quiet quitting, outright resignations, and draconian budget...

The Traumas of the Buffalo Winter Blizzard of 2022

I was 1 year old when the legendary blizzard of ’77 struck Buffalo, NY. This coincidence made me a “blizzard baby,” as my late mother Gail frequently recalled with a fond, nostalgic smile. She shared the Buffalo folklore tales of snowbanks towering to the height of...

Media Lingers on Biden Documents Story, ‘Both-Sidesing’ with Trump

Last week, the discovery of classified documents at Joe Biden’s former office and later his home sparked a flurry of news coverage, including comparisons to Donald Trump’s ongoing classified-records scandal. Critics called out false equivalency in mainstream media’s...

Investigation Points to FBI Conspiracy to Silence Martin Luther King Jr.

In the years following his death, documents related to Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder case were destroyed, and all files of FBI surveillance on King were sealed for 50 years. The suppression of information prompted human rights lawyer Dr. William Pepper and the King...

Ukrainian Journalists Reporting Amidst Bombs to Document War

On February 24, 2022, a full-scale Russian military attack changed the destinies of millions of people. Journalists overnight became, in addition to their specialization, war correspondents and war victims, mostly unprepared for reporting amidst bombs. Some...

Struggles, Solutions, Solidarities: Julia Reichert (1946-2022)

Julia sat in the basement of the Student Union at the University of Iowa engulfed in a circle of women college students wearing flannel shirts, jeans, and work boots, drinking coffee to power them through a study night at the university library. It was 1976. I was a...

A Brief Political Travelogue of an American Abroad

Traveling outside of the country poses great privileges and special challenges for Americans, given the influence that the U.S. has over the global economic and political order.  It comes with responsibilities, which all Americans should take seriously but,...