The Only Meaningful Way to Save American Journalism

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"Report the news" Art by Mr. Fish.

It’s no secret that the U.S. funding model for journalism is broken, and that this had terrible consequences for our democracy, but it may not be without repair. As advertising revenue newspapers once relied on has increasingly ended up in the pockets of big tech companies such as Google and Facebook, many have shut down their presses, while others such as the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have turned to billionaires to fund their papers, resulting in a model that has turned journalism into a playground for the uber rich that conceals the economic plight of most of the population. Author Victor Pickard’s latest book, Democracy Without Journalism?: Confronting the Misinformation Society, however, offers a simple solution to our media woes: government subsidies. Pickard argues that the era for commercial journalism is over, especially when it comes to the kind of expensive, local journalism that democracies depend on. In his book, the author and Associate Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania urges his readers to see this crisis as an opportunity to reimagine a better, stronger model for journalism. 

On this week’s installment of Scheer Intelligence, Pickard joins host Robert Scheer to discuss the failures that have led to this dire misinformation precipice, most of which are rooted in monopoly capitalism, and how more public funding for media could be the exact medicine this ailing country desperately needs. Throughout the conversation, Pickard calls for a democratized media system that is funded, owned, and controlled by the American people, which could mean either building on partially publicly-funded systems in existence, such as PBS and NPR, or starting from scratch. 

“A good starting point is to look at what other democracies around the planet are doing,” says Pickard. “When you see, for example, what the UK is doing, or what Germany or what the Nordic countries are doing, or what Japan, Australia, Korea--they all have robust public media systems. So that when the market fails to support the journalism democracy needs, there's a public social safety net there. They can ensure that all of their citizens will have access to a certain level of news and information [including, in some countries, print media], even when commercial private publishers aren't supporting the kind of journalism that they need. 

“[The core lesson] is these democratic countries that are subsidizing their media,” he concludes, “are not sliding into totalitarianism. Quite the opposite: they correlate with the strongest democracies on the planet.” 

Listen to the full discussion between Pickard and Scheer as they examine the past, present, and future of the fourth estate with an urgency that mirrors the subject’s importance during these tumultuous times.  



Joshua Scheer