CJR editors: We’re not in favor of a bailout for newspapers, but…

CJR editors: We’re not in favor of a bailout for newspapers, but….

In its November editorial, the Columbia Journalism Review makes the case for “smart” government support of journalism, much to the chagrin of those fearful that government intervention in the struggling newspaper business would compromise editorial integrity and threaten freedom of the press.

Though bailouts and subsidies are out of the question, the editorial stated, “it seems increasingly clear that, at least in the short term, sustaining the kind of accountability journalism that our society needs—and that newspapers have been the chief producers of—will require some creative help from Uncle Sam.”

Lamenting the decline of advertising as the means of financing accountability journalism, it was concluded that without ad revenue newspapers would be unable to produce a critical public good in the form of the aforementioned accountability journalism. Referencing a talk given by Clay Shirky in September, the problem stems from the fact that prior to Internet sites like Monster and Craigslist, advertisers had no where else to go. Thus, in the 20th century, advertisers were overcharged and underserved but now Shirky says, “The institutions harrying newspapers — Monster and Match and Craigslist — all have the logic that if you want to list a job or sell a bike, you don’t go to the place that’s printing news from Antananarivo and the crossword puzzle. You go to the place that’s good for listing jobs and selling bikes.”

CJR listed a few worthy ideas in the quest to rescue newspapers, including paywalls, memberships and micropayments but concluded these will most likely fail at taking the place of long-lost advertising revenue.

“If we don’t get beyond the rational but outdated fear of government help for accountability journalism—if we just let the market sort it out—this vital public good will continue to decline,” it concludes.

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