Reliable journalism is becoming increasingly difficult to come by. With the decline of newspapers and the scarcity of independent outlets, corporate news is the source that most people turn to despite record levels of distrust among the public. This leads to a less informed society and even allows proliferation of misinformation that could result in the death of the Fourth Estate altogether. We need a pubic news option, one truly owned and run by and for the people it serves, not for corporations or profits of their shareholders.
Media scholar Victor Pickard writes in Jacobin and the Guardian that small local newspapers have been dying out, and the newspaper industry in general has lost more than fifty percent of its reporting staff since 2001. This is evidence that the market-based system we currently have is not working. For journalism to survive and thrive, we need a public option, which will require big changes. There would have to be government subsidies, a firewall put in place to protect media outlets from their influence. Media monopolies would have to be broken up and diversification would need to be a necessity, along with strengthening unions in newsrooms. This would replace the profit model that we have today in the US. News outlets would have to be regulated and act in support of the informational needs of society. The general public would have to be included in order to be truly invested and supportive of such an endeavor.
We are seeing even more and more layoffs of journalists as COVID-19 quarantines grind the economy to a halt. Craig Aaron, co-CEO of the organization Free Press, writes in the Columbia Journalism Review that it is time for Congress to include journalism in its bailout packages. Journalists are needed now more than ever as the public seeks accurate and even life- saving information, and Aaron’s organization Free Press says we need $5 billion now (Pickard calls for several more times that) and lays out a three-step plan for recovery, including a doubling of federal funds for public media, direct support for daily and weekly newsrooms, and new investments in the news we need to avert our current crisis.
The corporate media have not covered many stories like this, mainly because it goes against their profit motives and is critical of their industry. Margaret Sullivan, writing for the Washington Post, noted Aaron’s piece, offering tepid endorsement, while some other articles addressed the ongoing demise of newspapers. That said, corporate media rarely spoke of the efficacy of a public solution to this problem. They mainly blame the Internet and television for the collapse of local newspapers. Ignoring the failures of the profit and advertising-centric model for many local media outlets enables well-heeled corporate owners to purchase these smaller, struggling sources and in turn control anti-public media narratives (or further downsize newsrooms into non-existence). Addressing the need for publicly owned news media would force them to face the truth that their pro-corporate, ad-funded, false equivalency model of institutionally biased reporting is no longer working, and in fact, arguably never worked in the interest of the public sector it claims to serve.
Victor Pickard, “We Need a Media System That Serves People’s Needs, Not Corporations,” Jacobin, January 27, 2020, https://jacobinmag.com/2020/01/corporate-media-system-democracy.
Victor Pickard, “American Journalism is Dying. Its Survival Requires Public Funds,” The Guardian, February 19, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020 /feb/19/american-journalism-press-publishing-mcclatchy.
Craig Aaron, “Journalism Needs a Stimulus. Here’s What it Should Look Like,” Columbia Journalism Review, March 24, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/analysis/journalism-stimulus.php.
Student Researcher: Veronica Vasquez (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Advisor: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)