The Plan To Save Journalism
“Never be satisfied with merely printing news.”
Bernie Sanders, to much corporate chagrin, recently released a plan to address the death-spiraling news industry. I will admit calling it a plan is a little generous; it’s more of a collection of ideas that could help and have some backing behind them. Nonetheless, several journalists lined up to attack him for daring to criticize the media. They likened him to Trump and his “enemy of the people” line, usually also finding themselves admitting that there is genuinely a problem with their line of work writ large, though only offering a bleak “Trust us!” in response to supposed accusations of corporate or billionaire influence.
The most intriguing part of the plan is an idea put forth by FAIR, a nonprofit focused on free and independent reporting. They proposed a tax on all digital advertising that would flow into a public trust charged with doling out grants to newsrooms and independent journalists. This tax would target Google and Facebook the most since they have vacuumed up the largest share of digital advertising over the last decade. According to Vox, combined they “control 60 percent of the entire digital advertising market.” A study by the News Media Alliance in 2018 found that as newspaper revenues declined, Google made $4.7 billion off reporting that Google did not pay for.” It certainly would allow for a bit of poetic justice making these two behemoths subsidize the news.
There are many issues at play here though. News shouldn’t be in the business of making a profit and ideally it should have the widest access possible. News shouldn’t cater the whims of large corporations or billionaire philanthropists as it should be kept at arms length from the government as well. The key isn’t without bias, it’s independence and value. Without that publishers are little more than propaganda.
So how do you establish independence? It requires money to flow towards newsmakers with no strings attached. Gone are these perverse incentives for clicks or likes or comments. It requires the freedom to investigate anything. Nothing is off limits. In order to fully achieve this the people at the top must be kept separate from the journalists. Perhaps even to the extent that any funding sources for a news org. is kept hidden from journalists that write for that organization. No conflicts of interest, real, implied, or imagined.
Finally, to reiterate the goal is independence NOT neutrality. There is no requirement to present both sides equally. The only requirement is to tell the truth at all costs. To me, lying and twisting the facts is a far graver sin than an agenda. Bias is natural and needed in times of peril. You don’t want journalists waffling in the face of wannabe fascists or kowtowing to the whims of to a pro-war agenda. A strong legal requirement to tell the true is something to explore.
One truism, all the more important nowadays, is that:
“While you’re entitled to your opinion, some opinions are more true than others.”
Holding powerful people to account followed by telling the truth. Merely presenting the news isn’t enough. In this digital age, that part of the job is almost irrelevant to the soul of any worthy news organization. If there’s any silver lining, investigative journalism seems to be gaining steam again.
And while the press is certainly not the “enemy of the people”, we’re kidding ourselves if we didn’t admit there was room for improvement. It’s good that Bernie Sanders is bringing this discussion to the forefront.
If you liked this post, here are a few others I’ve written that you might enjoy: