A report on “saving the news” that’s worth a read

12 May 2009

Confession: I was ready to not like the new report from Free Press on “Saving the News:  Toward a National Journalism Strategy.” Yeesh: a national journalism strategy, when we can barely figure out how to use Twitter? Seemed a bit presumptuous.

The first sentence of the report didn’t help, either:”Journalism is a public good.” Really? Britney? Octomom? Glenn Beck? Public goods? Double yeesh.

Sure enough after that boldly wrong-headed statement, the Free Press guys = Victor Pickard, Josh Stearns, and Craig Aaron – pulled back, and hard. After that, they made it quite clear they were talking about something a wee bit more specific, aka “quality journalism” –  you know, stuff with facts and thinking.

But as I read through the report (which Free Press released in conjunction with its Washington D.C. conference happening this week), it got better – and by the end, a lot better. Especially the last section, on “Strategies and Solutions for Saving the News” (okay, could FP splurge next time on a good headline writer?). First they make the case for why it’s time for public policy and public media to be at the center of the “future of journalism” discussion. Second they make it clear that policy needs to be not about newspapers, but about newsrooms,” not “about protecting old institutions,” but about “serving local communities.” And third, they embrace the moment we’re in – a moment when diversity and experimentation is oh so needed. So compared to the Pleistocene-era crybaby fest that took place last week in front of John Kerry and his Senate committee, they’re talking future tense, refreshingly so.

The report then goes on to list some doable short-term strategies to get us through the  rough patch we know we’re headed for. Things like modifying federal tax and bankruptcy law to make it easier for for profit news operations to convert over to non-profit or “low-profit” L3C companies (with some good language on how to make Senator Ben Cardin’s newspaper bill actually work). Like a “journalism jobs program” that could be organized under the recently passed “Serve America Act” and the Social Innovation Fund that’s included in that legislation; and a retraining/transition jobs program that might help give some of the reporters who’ve been laid off in recent months a leg up on their next gig.

The report finishes up with two really tantalizing ideas for the longer term. The first, taking its inspiration from Pressthinker Jay Rosen, is an R&D Fund for Journalistic Innovation, a “government-seeded innovation fund for journalism” that “invests in new business models.” Why the hell not, right?

The second long-term idea? A truly world-class public media system, one that goes way beyond “Antiques Roadshow” and “Car Talk.” In this political moment, when the notion of the commonweal is sprouting green shoots after so many years of drought, wouldn’t this be worth fighting for?

One Response to “A report on “saving the news” that’s worth a read”

  1. […] to remember that we’re not talking strictly about journalism here, it’s about the political economy of media. So far, (a) I haven’t seen anything that does better than these guys have done and (b) to my […]

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