My friend J.D. from Kansas weighs in against my suggestion that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting expand its mandate (and budget) to subsidize some of the journalism now being done (but not for much longer, probably) by newspapers:
All kidding aside, nothing in the Constitution grants journalists any more or less rights than anyone else, and the reason journalists find themselves in need of a bailout/takeover is the same as the reason the automakers do — the times have passed their industry by, and they were too busy claiming entitlement and a special place in society to notice.
I agree that nothing in the Constitution grants journalists any greater rights to expression than anybody else. And I’ll agree that journalists — myself included — can sometimes get puffed up with our self-perceived importance to society. Some of that is deserved, and some of that is consolation for the long hours and low pay.
And I think J.D.’s comparison to the automakers is instructive, but perhaps not in the way he intends. Because here’s the thing: Both journalists and automakers are still providing something people want. They’re just not doing it in a sustainable way.
Stay with me here.
The automakers, after all, aren’t just providing cars — they’re providing a means of transportation, which is something that people still want. And journalists aren’t just cranking out newspapers — they’re providing information … which, if the 25 percent increase in visitors to newspaper websites last quarter is to be believed, is something people still very much want.
Now if the Big Three die tomorrow — which, weirdly, is only barely hyperbolic these days — there will still be Toyota and Nissan cranking out cars, and that’s not even getting into other providers of transportation. Newspapers are a little different: If the Inquirer and Daily News died tomorrow — which is, weirdly, only slightly less hyperbolic than the Big Three scenario — who is left to do the work of covering Philadelphia?
Philadelphia Weekly, of course. But it couldn’t be just us.
Over time, I imagine, Philadelphia’s army of bloggers would take on a good chunk of the task, but in a specialized way. You’d have City Hall bloggers and police precinct bloggers and neighborhood bloggers — just like you do now, only forced to do some more original reporting than they generally do now. And they’d have to figure out how to make money at that.
And maybe that’s where we’re moving — maybe even ought to move — anyway. But during the transition period, there’s going to be an awful lot of news uncovered, an awful lot of information not available to people who clearly want and need it. Given the respective possibilities of the consequences of industry failure, I could even argue that journalists are more deserving of a bailout than the carmakers.
Probably nobody wants to hear that argument, however.
So maybe modify my CPB idea. Give it a sunset clause — say five or 10 years. Tell the newspapers they have that time to prepare to close or come up with a new revenue model. Mosts journalists work best under deadline, anyway.