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Argument: Journalism is public good for democracy, deserves subsidies

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Supporting quotations

Sara Catania. "Hey President Obama, Spare Any Change?". Huffington Post. January 1, 2009 - "Our aspirational society, in order to create a more perfect union, needs journalism. Not gossip, not snark, not uninformed blather that passes for opinion, but good, solid reporting. Investigations, deep features, reporting-driven storytelling. These are the stories that show us who we are, that shape the narrative of our lives and the life of our nation. But it's getting harder to sustain the journalism needed to tell those stories.

There's just one glaring problem: money. The lack of it. The late, great David Halberstam once described the life of a journalist as a donation to society, and I can abide that, to a point. I never expected to rake in the bucks, only to make enough to contribute my share to the family coffers. It seems a reasonable expectation."


John Nichols and Robert McChesney. "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers". Nation. March 18, 2009: "The founders regarded the establishment of a press system, the Fourth Estate, as the first duty of the state. Jefferson and Madison devoted considerable energy to explaining the necessity of the press to a vibrant democracy. The government implemented extraordinary postal subsidies for the distribution of newspapers. It also instituted massive newspaper subsidies through printing contracts and the paid publication of government notices, all with the intent of expanding the number and variety of newspapers. When Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s he was struck by the quantity and quality of newspapers and periodicals compared with France, Canada and Britain. It was not an accident. It had little to do with "free markets." It was the result of public policy.

Moreover, when the Supreme Court has taken up matters of freedom of the press, its majority opinions have argued strongly for the necessity of the press as the essential underpinning of our constitutional republic. First Amendment absolutist Hugo Black wrote that the 'Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society.' Black argued for the right and necessity of the government to counteract private monopolistic control over the media. More recently Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, argued that 'assuring the public has access to a multiplicity of information sources is a governmental purpose of the highest order.'

[...] We begin with the notion that journalism is a public good, that it has broad social benefits far beyond that between buyer and seller. Like all public goods, we need the resources to get it produced. This is the role of the state and public policy. It will require a subsidy and should be regarded as similar to the education system or the military in that regard. Only a nihilist would consider it sufficient to rely on profit-seeking commercial interests or philanthropy to educate our youth or defend the nation from attack. With the collapse of the commercial news system, the same logic applies. Just as there came a moment when policy-makers recognized the necessity of investing tax dollars to create a public education system to teach our children, so a moment has arrived at which we must recognize the need to invest tax dollars to create and maintain news gathering, reporting and writing with the purpose of informing all our citizens."


Former Miami Herald Editor Tom Fiedler was quoted saying in a December 28, 2008 article that a democracy has an obligation to help preserve a free press: "I truly believe that no democracy can remain healthy without an equally healthy press. Thus it is in democracy's interest to support the press in the same sense that the human being doesn't hesitate to take medicine when his or her health is threatened."[1]


Mickey Alam Khan: "A population that is not well-read will not think critically. Newspapers, be they in print or online or on mobile, offer edited, moderated and unbiased news and balanced opinion so necessary for debating between good choices and bad in personal life and at work."[2]


Texas A&M's Prof. Starr: "The United States as we know it will disappear; it will no longer be a nation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One by one, all of our freedoms will disappear; the Bill of Rights, of freedoms, will be meaningless because there will be no freedom of speech or of the press. Without a free press, there will be no one to keep an eye on the government and to tell the people what the government is doing and is planning to do."[3]

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