Last week, Free Press released a study I co-authored entitled “Saving the News: Toward a National Journalism Strategy.” It is a comprehensive new examination of the journalism crisis from a public policy perspective.
The report provides an in-depth analysis of current and emerging models for journalism and public policies to support these new models. As the first study of its kind, “Saving the News” outlines the clear and immediate need for a national journalism strategy.
The debate over the future of news in America has raged in editorial pages and conference rooms, on blogs and on Twitter. These have been important and fruitful conversations. But all too often, lost in these discussions about new business models, declining profit margins and job cuts is the central role that quality journalism and in-depth news have in sustaining our democracy. Even rarer — despite all the ink spilled about journalism’s demise — is any serious evaluation of the policies that contributed to journalism’s decline, and which new policies could help to reverse it.
We need a national journalism strategy to overhaul our failing media system and coordinate government intervention to support a vibrant media landscape and a wide variety of experiments in journalistic models.. Any national journalism strategy must:
- Protect the First Amendment: Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are essential to a free society and a functioning democracy. Everyone should have the right to access and impart information and opinion through the media of their choice.
- Produce Quality Coverage: To self-govern in a democratic society, the public needs in-depth reporting on local issues as well as national and international affairs that is accurate, credible and verifiable. Journalism should include a diversity of voices and viewpoints.
- Provide Adversarial Perspectives: Reporting should hold the powerful accountable by scrutinizing the actions of government and corporations, and journalism should foster genuine debate about important issues of public concern.
- Promote Public Accountability: Newsrooms should serve the public interest, not private or government aims, and should be treated as a public service, not a commodity. Journalism should be responsive to the needs of diverse and changing communities.
- Prioritize Innovation: Journalists should use new tools and technologies to report and deliver the news. The public needs journalism that crosses traditional boundaries and is accessible to the broadest range of people across platforms.
Saving our news media and implementing a national journalism strategy for this transitional moment will require both short- and long-term solutions. Based on the analysis in our report, we have identified five models with the most promise that should be the top priorities for policymakers:
- New Ownership Structures
- Incentives For Divestiture
- Journalism Jobs Program
- R&D Fund for Journalistic innovation
- New Public Media
(For more details on these recommendations download the full report.)
These models, alone or collectively, will not provide an instant panacea to the crisis in journalism. However, we believe these alternatives are worth further consideration, study and action. Journalism is a critical infrastructure. It is too precious for a democratic society simply to sit back and pray that the market will magically sustain it.
The role of public policy in supporting journalism and fostering public service media is easily overlooked, but its importance cannot be overstated. The media system we have didn’t emerge in a vacuum. It was shaped by specific political and policy decisions. And it is in large part policy decisions — and the political will to make the right ones — that will decide what’s next for journalism.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. The crisis in journalism will undoubtedly require a menu of responses, not a one-size-fits-all solution. Driven by a growing media reform movement, a period of vigorous experimentation with bold new models is the best hope for the future of journalism, the lifeblood of democracy.