Friday, November 13, 2009

Is Journalism a Public Good?

Yes, says Leonard Downie and thus the government should subsidize newspapers.

No, says Howard Gleckman, no business should be subsidized, apparently never having heard of public goods, externalities, and the like.

Regardless, Gleckman may be right about papers, at least in their current form. Perhaps the answer is not to subsidize newspapers, but journalism itself. How to do so is a challenge that I have no good answer for because journalism is so immediate, competitive grants and the like are not really reasonable.

13 comments:

Ralph said...

I the suggestion of subsidizing anything with government funds ridiculous. Just like bringing Democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan. The people need to decide for themselves how they want their government. If the people become lazy slobs, let the government run them over until they realize they don't want to be cattle any longer. Otherwise we are just slapping a facade on a burned out house.

Chuck said...

As a firm, what is it that a newspaper does as an business enterprise? As I understand it, a newspaper firm sells readerhip to customers called advertisers. For the most part, the advertisers are businesses. They garner readers to sell to advertisers by publishing a kind of information called news.
That the firm's approach to news generation and delivery may serve a civic function in our democracy is worth noting. However, technology and readership has changed and other mediums are now available to satisfy the public's interest for information.

Erasmus said...

This is ridiculous, of course it is a public good and our government has been subsidizing it from our inception (primarily through discounted postage rates). The founding fathers all recognized the importance of a free and diverse press and it would behoove us to embrace that common sense and ensure its continued viability, even if that means direct subsidization.

PBaker said...

Subsidizing journalists? That's a great way to control what it placed in the media.

Jeff Alworth said...

But Ralph, what if the people decide to subsidize? Who then becomes the veto? Every government program has millions of supporters. Many have a large majority of the nation supporting them. You may think it's ridiculous, but the people have spoken.

Ralph said...

"The people" and "majority" are euphemisms for one's own opinion. Representative democracy doesn't mirror the will of the citizenry. I'd bet my very life that if the citizens were allowed a direct vote on bailing out banks and insurance companies with their money they'd vote against it. I'd even let you chose my method of execution Jeff. But I don't pretend to speak for anyone but myself.

Who becomes the veto? May I suggest you read the amendment that came right after "Freedom of Religion" in the Bill of Rights? I'd suggest if government oversteps their bounds too many times it has a way of working itself out. Don't forget how this country was founded, and we all know it wasn't about religion.

Bringing up the CPB would have been a better approach to the discussion of how government is already subsidizing the "media". I do think that CPB should be disbanded and the FCC's charter reviewed while we are at it.

Patrick Emerson said...

You may be right about undue influence, but I will just mention that the government funds lots and lots of academic research and has, for the most part, not tried to manipulate it. It does, however, set priorities...

PBaker said...

You can speak for me Ralph. As for the academics not being manipulated- it doesn't have to. Most authors of papers want the acceptance of having papers published/by their peers. Try publishing a paper explaining how markets are not free, not even for choices. Second, you should read Ivan Illich. If teacher A is taught X from the status quo, you can bet your last dollar teacher b, who was a student of teacher a, will teach X. This is easily seen within economic classes (autisme-economie or post-autistic economic movement within France as well as STAND from Harvard).

Jeff Alworth said...

Ralph, you may be right if we constrain the picture enough. But if the people don't like laws their legislators pass, they vote for ones who'll change the law. The steady accretion of public services demonstrate strong constituencies. You and I may both agree that the wars were terrible wastes of our tax dollars (though probably for different reasons), and yet we are part of a minority view.

Similarly, people back expenditures on education, social security and medicare, and social services. With regard to the media, the people have spoken there, too: it no longer funds media in the US to any substantial degree. "Public broadcasting" now means non-profit broadcasting. And the people don't seem too disturbed by it.

Ralph said...

Jeff,

Here is an interesting test. Pick just one of your "legislators" and compile a list of all the "laws" they passed over a given year. Pick one of your friends who you consider to be average, in reference to the general public, in regards to their knowledge of the lawmakers actions. Then ask them one at a time from the list of laws if they were aware of that "law" being passed. I'd be curious what percentage they come up with.

With regards to media, I welcome your call to save the taxpayers 400 million dollars a year by dissolving the CPB. Since 400 million isn't significant.

Also, can you tell me exactly how "the people have spoken" in regards to subsidizing the media?

Jeff Alworth said...

Ralph, your thought experiment fails to recognize the specific design of representative, as opposed to direct, democracy. In other words, this is how the system is SUPPOSED to function.

But as to your second point, federal funds to CPB account for less than 15% of its total budget. The US government does not underwrite public broadcasting. It offers a small grant. Since no one is agitating for greater expenditures, I assert that the people are happy with the arrangement.

Ralph said...

Jeff,

I wasn't aware that an ill-informed public on what is being done in their name is a principle of representative democracy. I'm not suggesting that every American should have perfect information, but I do think they should be apprised of what is being done in their name on the majority of laws being passed. This is how we have ended up with an oligarchy lining the pockets of the buddies with our tax dollars.

Well if as you state the federal government's contribution to CPB is only 15% even more reason they wouldn't be hurt by defunding it.

The federal government does underwrite/fund broadcasting, both public and private, through its various wings. A quick internet search will reveal that fact.

You assertion boils down to this Jeff, "If they don't complain about it, they must like it." I find that assertion to be suspect.

Jeff Alworth said...

Ralph,

Actually, it *is* suspect. The problem is that there's no netter solution. Direct democracy is a catastrophe--the same uninformed people remain uninformed, they're just promoted to decision-makers. The only other directions are toward anarchy or autocracy, and they're clearly worse than representative democracy. The information about lawmaking is available. If people blow it off, I guess I do consider that assent.