We at AJP have been asked two questions a lot over the past couple of weeks. The first is whether we support public funding for local news over the long term? The second is do we support COVID-19 related relief of newsrooms, both for-profit and nonprofit.
The first question merits further discussion — and a lot of it. We recognize and appreciate the political charge attached to any government funding of journalism: an independent press is foundational to our democracy. This will require a robust, far-sighted public discussion that focuses on what is practical. We know it’s possible for taxpayers to decide to support independent institutions that we value with no strings attached and we are keen to have that discussion over time.
With regard to the question of shorter-term stimulus funding, we have joined a coalition of organizations that represent nonprofit and locally owned news outlets to sign this letter to inform Congress of the essential work being done by local news organizations and the necessity of Covid-19-related relief of newsrooms.
The scarce resource in our battle to preserve informed communities is not newspapers or even news. It’s reporters. These “essential workers” are bringing us vital information about this pandemic, and readers are flocking to their sites to stay informed. And so, at this time when accurate and reported information is needed more than ever, we should support any measure that might lower the chances of these critical public servants being furloughed or fired.
We have an existential crisis on our hands: since the 1830s, we have relied almost entirely on advertising to fund the news and reporting we needed to participate in our democracy. A decade ago or so, the advertising model that sustained commercial news transitioned to online platforms, eroding the revenue that sustained the for-profit news industry.
Now we face the question: how do we fund an informed society now that the commercial model is disintegrating even faster than we’d anticipated? We know it can be done. It’s going to take a collective recognition that each of us has a role to play to sustain this critical companion to democracy.
Right now, we call upon Congress to support democracy’s first responders — local reporters — through this difficult and unprecedented time.