Newspapers (that is: news, on paper) might not be essential for democracy, but some form of journalism certainly is. And journalism, as you might have heard, is struggling. Gone are the lucrative classifieds. Stripped are the ad-laden car and real estate sections that helped to cross-subsidize the expensive work of reporting war from an overseas bureau. Local and loyal newspaper readers have scattered across the Internet. Their attention spans have scattered, too, and ad revenue has dwindled.
Is it time for another bailout? Should the government save the news? Lee Bollinger argues yes, for at least two reasons.
First, we depend on publicly funded news, already. The BBC, PBS and NPR all receive federal funding. The artery from federal coffers isn't always large or direct -- NPR applies for competitive grants and gets about 2 percent of its funding from the federally supported organizations like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts -- but it's undeniably public funding. And yet, the BBC, PBS and NPR are consistently among the most trusted sources of news.
Second, as Bollinger points out, there are other publicly funded institutions we commonly accept as independent from federal control. "The most compelling are our public
universities and our federal programs for dispensing billions of
dollars annually for research," he writes. "Those of us in public and private
research universities care every bit as much about academic freedom as
journalists care about a free press."