Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Opinion | Local news can be government-funded — carefully

Opinion | Local news can be government-funded — carefully

The Sept. 24 editorial “A new way to fund journalism starts with $500 million” provided a thorough analysis of the Press Forward initiative, a newly announced philanthropic investment of a half-billion dollars to bolster local journalism. I was dismayed, however, by the editorial’s dismissal of the positive role the government can and must play to address the country’s local news crisis.

The assertion that “public policy solutions … [mix] poorly with independent journalism” ignored a key reality: The world’s strongest democracies fund public media at high levels, and their news ecosystems are better off for it. Research has shown that compared with other democratic nations, the United States scarcely funds public media — we devote about $1.40 per capita to public media, while nations such as Britain, Norway and Sweden spend about $100 or more.

Any government intervention to support local news should come with a strong firewall to protect editorial independence. Fortunately, we have proven models that we can lean on. Since 1968, the federally authorized Corporation for Public Broadcasting has funded crucial reporting without inappropriate interference. In New Jersey, the Civic Information Consortium (created by the state legislature in 2018) has invested state funds in independent local media, including outlets focused on holding the government to account.

If a healthy press is truly a pillar of our democracy, then we shouldn’t shy from public funding. There are successful examples of this everywhere.

Alex Frandsen, Washington

The writer is the journalism program manager at Free Press.

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