Even Corporate News ‘Isn’t Just Another Commodity’

A Seattle Times op-ed column (7/4/09) by Free Press’ Victor Pickard and Joseph Torres discussing the fact that “the public’s changing media habits have eroded the newspaper industry’s monopoly on the local ad market” describes the corporate response thus: “The big media companies are pressuring Congress to prop up their failed business models by allowing more media consolidation and relaxing antitrust laws so they can collude on new ‘pay wall’ and pricing schemes.”

Reaffirming that “despite the many shortcomings of newspapers, our democracy requires a free and vibrant press,” Pickard and Torres still maintain that

these shortsighted measures aren’t the answer. We must recognize that the current crisis isn’t just about the future of newspapers; it’s about the survival of democracy-sustaining journalism. We now have a unique and fleeting opportunity to overhaul our media system and advocate for policies that would serve the informational needs of diverse communities….

For too long, newspapers and other mainstream-media outlets have abandoned their commitment to public service in the pursuit of short-term gains. Even today, many newspapers remain profitable but their corporate owners are burdened by huge debt loads incurred during earlier consolidation sprees.

We need new models whose sole criterion for success is not profit maximization. News isn’t just another commodity. Journalism is an essential public service and critical infrastructure. Like many public goods, journalism has never been fully supported by the market; it always has been subsidized. But the advertising-subsidy system no longer works.

Detailing “much that needs to happen to rescue failing news operations while supporting the creation of new ones,” the Free Pressers name a radically anti-corporate top priority: “First, we must rescue good assets from bad owners. Journalism is too precious to leave its future in the hands of absentee corporate owners.” The Free Press group “recently released a report endorsing five policy proposals that would help sustain newsrooms.” Hear more on this important topic on FAIR’s radio program CounterSpin: “Jim Naureckas on the Future of Journalism” (7/10/09).