Can the government save democracy and journalism in one go?
My response to Michael Arrington's post on "real journalism" and government support. Out of character for Arrington and TechCrunch, but reflects the realization that technology=flow of information=media.
Agreed out of principal at first, but Columbia J-School Dean Nick Lemann’s response to the Forbes post made me think twice. He cites BBC, PBS (Frontline), stock structures and indirect government subsidies that have long supported journalism, especially long format. He might be towing the party line with Bollinger, but his thesis is:
“Right now the mismatch between the social mission of journalism and the market support for that mission seems to be growing, so I think we should explore other means of support for serious journalism.”
Yes and no.
Yes, in that sometimes market forces don’t act in the interest of the public good– the idealistic potential of media. Witness Murdoch’s brilliant media strategy and his mind-numbing sensationalist rags. They fill a popular need for mythical archetypes and good guys vs. villains but they are not an effective source of objective information. The private Knight Foundation is hugely important to supporting growth in journalism. PBS, NPR, BBC and government-financed media in democratic nations (i.e. NOT Egypt, NOT Saudi Arabia) have a pretty good track record. And who’s not to say that independent, commercial media organizations (FOX) aren’t in bed with specific political affiliations? (Though the skepticism is healthy.)
No to Lemman in that serious journalism does not necessarily equal “traditional” journalism, and there is no need to drag our heels to try to slow an irreversible tide change. Journalism is evolving, and the new media vs. old media divide is counterproductive; an effective Fourth Estate will embrace elements associated with both. It would be more useful to focus on reality–how people really get their news today– because this is rapidly changing. My college-age sister has never purchased a print newspaper (picked up free dailies and The Onion, yes). Newspaper publishers will do well to observe what happened to music publishers: try to stop a paradigm shift in the consumer behavior of millions, try to enforce an obsolete business model, and you will fail.
Why not support serious journalism for a changing media landscape? Imagine if the US government supported “serious” but innovative news efforts online? (Sorry Perez and Denton.) Global Voices, citizen journalism, participatory media, etc. Talk about a force for the free exchange of information– and a true check on the government’s influence.
Tags: Media , Technology , Government , Journalism
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