While philanthropy might be enough to support the Lens over the long haul, there are likely not enough foundation dollars (or ad dollars) out there to cover the full array of issues and communities in New Orleans. There is another key player in New Orleans’ journalism scene that deserves mention: public broadcasting. Eleven public radio stations and six public television stations serve communities across Louisiana. While he doesn’t address public media in his piece, Bunch later explained to me that he envisions public media as “connected with the ProPublica-style nonprofit I envisioned.”
Obviously public media is engaged with its own policy struggles at the federal level, but it should also be noted that Louisiana has cut more than two million dollars in funding for public broadcasting in the last five years. When considered alongside the Times-Picayune cuts and the digital divide, we begin to see that the news and information challenges facing New Orleans are diverse and urgent.
There is no silver bullet. Neither philanthropy, nor government aid, nor commercial media will provide the full extent of news and information our communities need. Nonprofit news organizations can help fill the gaps, but those of us who are concerned about the future of journalism in New Orleans and communities like it need to address media policy debates, such as how to bridge the digital divide and clear the way for new journalism models.
In moments of transition it’s critical to have journalists weigh in. Otherwise we’ll end up with more media policy made in our name but not in our interest, and we might not like the outcomes. The media system we currently have didn’t emerge in a vacuum; it is the result of local, state and federal policies. If we want to create a different future for the news in New Orleans, we have to work to re-imagine those policies too.
Correction: We misspelled the name of Will Bunch’s blog, and have fixed it in the story. It is not Attywood, but Attytood. CJR regrets the error.