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.
“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.