Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Does Journalism Need Government Help?

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Lee Bollinger, the President of Columbia University, and author of a new book, “Uninhibited, Robust, Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century,” wrote an op-ed article calling for a new media-industry business model that relies on government funding. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704629804575324782605510168.html

Mr. Bollinger says, “The proliferation of communications outlets has fractured the base of advertising and readers [of what he calls “the U.S. press”]. He proposes that without government funding, journalists in the United States will not be able to compete with news agencies around the world, such as XinHua News, CCTV, BBC, and Al Jazeera. Mr. Bollinger, a lawyer, points to the U.S court system and how the government provides defense attorneys to defendants as an example of how government can play a paternalistic, unbiased role in society–presumably similar to the other news agencies he mentioned. For example, XinHua removed the words “Falun Gong” from its vocabulary, not because it had the potential to organize into a powerful political coalition, but because exposing citizens of the People’s Republic of China to a dangerous cult was not good for them.

While Mr. Bollinger is on a roll, he might consider proposing government funding of churches. Many churches have undoubtedly seen reductions in tithing and donations, similar to the reductions traditional media companies have experienced in advertising revenues. After all, Mr. Bollinger could argue, many other countries have strong ties between church and state. How can churches in the United States compete with churches in those countries?

Apparently, Mr. Bollinger hasn’t recently read George Orwell’s 1984. He also apparently has not visited China recently where he would have had to report to the local police station upon his arrival and would have had to set up a virtual private network to an internet service provider outside of China just to get basic information. He apparently has not lived in Mexico where, at least when I lived there, the nightly news anchorman delivered government messages as if he were reporting factual news. Mr. Bollinger apparently would also point to the Rachel Maddow and Glenn Beck shows as examples of unbiased journalism, whose balanced reporting would certainly improve with government funding from a politically agnostic organization such as the Federal Communications Commission in the Executive Branch.

There is no doubt that traditional media companies, “the U.S. press” as Mr. Bollinger calls them, have been greatly damaged. According to Vocus, Inc, 293 local newspapers went out of business in 2009, alone. Should we lament the disappearance of local newspapers and ask the U.S. Federal Government to bail them out? I tried subscribing to the local paper, more than once. Each time I was so underwhelmed, I cancelled the subscription. I used to also receive those huge, 3-inch thick documents, called the Yellow Pages and White Pages. Should we ask the government to bail out this grand tradition, also? After all, there are probably thousands of nursing homes full of people who wouldn’t know how to find a local plumber if the facilities maintenance staff went on vacation for the next decade.

Do people no longer need plumbers, simply because they don’t receive the Yellow Pages book? Do people no longer care about what is happening in the world because they no longer subscribe to their local newspaper? Did the demand for news all of a sudden disappear after approximately 240 years, since Benjamin Franklin first started publishing newspapers in the U.S? People still want and will pay for information. The thing that has changed is how they pay and how they receive it.

I can find a local plumber faster than I can find an old Yellow Pages book. I can find the current status of events such as the Gulf oil spill faster than I can say the words. I also subscribe to the hard-copy Wall Street Journal. I look forward to taking it out of my mailbox every day. A friend of mine, the author the book, Rethink, looks forward to taking his copy of the New York Times out of his mailbox every day. Why? These members of “the U.S. press” provide a variety of high-quality information, whether it is today’s reporting of a recent meeting of the Federal Reserve presidents, or of Portugal’s challenges reducing their 9.4% public debt to GDP, or of how clothing fashions get started. My wife, who chided me for subscribing to the local paper, recently insisted that I renew the <i>Wall Street Journal</i> subscription—she loves it!

Wake up Mr. Bollinger. This is 2010. The New Economy and The New Media are soooo last century. Tim Berners-Lee and Jeff Bezos are now as ancient and as much a part of our everyday lives as Gutenburg’s printing press. Mr. Bollinger, you’d be a bit more credible if there were some evidence that you were participating in “the new media.”  Where is your “Follow Me on Twitter” icon on your Columbia University President’s Page? Where is your President’s Blog? If it exists, you need to improve your SEO. Where is your Facebook fanpage? I’m sure Columbia University is a fine institution of higher learning, but your school’s website looks like it was literally developed last century. My local school district’s website is far more modern—it’s built on Microsoft’s Sharepoint collaboration platform.

Change happens… Don’t get run over by it–get ahead of it!


One Response to “Does Journalism Need Government Help?”
  1. I found your web site on google and read a few of your other posts. i just added you to my own Google News Reader. Keep up the good work will enjoy reading more from you someday.

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