Our Ms. Brooks: Last Column
This will be my last column for the L.A. Times. After four years, I'll soon be starting a stint at the Pentagon as an advisor to the undersecretary of Defense for policy.
While Ms. Brooks detailed her own problems with the paper whose owner is seeking bankruptcy protection, she spent most of her column suggesting that real journalism in this country is in grave danger of disappearing for economic reasons and suggests a direction which might save and reinvigorate our free press.
It's time for a government bailout of journalism.
If we're willing to use taxpayer money to build roads, pay teachers and maintain a military; if we're willing to bail out banks and insurance companies and failing automakers, we should be willing to part with some public funds to keep journalism alive too. In an article in the April 6 Nation, John Nichols and Robert McChesney offer some ideas on how to bail out the news industry. They suggest, for instance, eliminating postal rates for periodicals that get less than 20% of their revenues from advertising, a tax credit for the first $200 taxpayers spend on newspaper subscriptions and a substantial expansion of funding for public broadcasting. Meanwhile, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced legislation to allow many existing newspapers to restructure as tax-exempt nonprofit educational institutions. And these ideas are just a start.
Like many people, including me, Ms. Brooks traces the decline of solid, investigative journalism to the corporatism that took over news outlets. Local newspapers, once owned by families truly interested in reporting the news (like the Los Angeles Times), were purchased by corporations more interested in ever increasing quarterly profits than in educating the public. Experienced and proficient journalists lost their jobs when the numbers didn't suit the suits, and the resulting loss in solid reporting was soon reflected in the loss of subscriptions. With fewer eyes to scan the advertising, those revenues fell as well.
Now, I'm not so sure that having the government pour dollars into those "news" corporations the way it is pouring dollars into failed banks and automakers so that they can continue the disastrous "business as usual" model is going to save journalism, even if it does temporarily save those corporations. Nor am I sure that having government directly involved in news gathering and reporting will serve the public interest (the past eight years proved that it doesn't). However, it is possible that some form of government policy to encourage truly independent journalism might be feasible, so some of the possibilities suggested in Ms. Brooks' last column should be entertained.
Reinvigorating the free press is absolutely necessary in this country, especially at this point in our history. A large part of me is optimistic that it could be done, even without government assistance. The other part of me, however, is moping. I'll miss Rosa Brooks' Thursday columns.
Labels: Free Press