Second, we are in the process of losing an entire generation to journalism. I can speak from personal experience as a college professor and after traveling this nation far and wide speaking to young people for the past few months that there are tens of thousands of talented young people eager to pursue careers in journalism who are about to dive headfirst into a swimming pool emptied of water. Once they are gone it will be vastly more difficult if not impossible to get them to return. We should launch a “Write for America” or “News AmeriCorps” type program to subsidize thousands of young journalists for a year or two after college working for news media around the country. In some states, like Maryland, unpaid college students are providing a significant part of the coverage of state government to local newspapers. We need what those young people are doing and we need to get them paid jobs. A “Write for America” program, which would cost little in the current scheme of things, would go a long way toward providing that bridge from a good education to a good job—a bridge that currently does not exist.
Third, we lost some 140 daily newspapers in 2009 and many of those that remain are hollowed-out lifeless versions of what existed two or three decades ago. In their present state it seems likely that some, perhaps many, existing dailies will die, too, in the coming years, probably with the next economic downturn. We cannot afford to lose these institutions, their current state notwithstanding. Let’s have the Small Business Administration have the funds necessary to facilitate the transition of existing corporate newspapers that are going under to a post-corporate future. Let the SBA help locate local independent owners or non-profit owners of any number of types to take over the control of the local newspaper. If the program works, let’s eventually use funds to establish competing dailies in larger communities.
In my view, it is imperative that the principle of the daily newspaper – an institution that serves everyone in the community—remain, even if it going to be primarily digital if not entirely digital down the road. We need news media in our communities where the buck stops, where we can expect important stories to be covered and if they are not we have a right to demand an answer from the editor. We need news media that do not segment us into bite-sized demographic categories, but that link us, educate us about parts of our community we would be unaware of otherwise, and find that which unites us. The market, left to its own devises, increasingly finds this democratic institution an unprofitable undertaking.
Fourth, it is imperative that we keep alive the journals of opinion, weekly news magazines, and political magazines that play an outsized role in our political culture. From the dawn of the Republic to this day, these magazines have depended upon postal subsidies to survive. As PRC Chair Ruth Goldway just chronicled, the situation for periodicals in the United States is dire. There is the distinct possibility the Postal Service will have enormous rate hikes next year that will possibly drive many publications out of business and require those that survive to make drastic cuts. Today many hundreds, even thousands, of small publications ranging from The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Harper’s on the left to Reason, Human Events, National Review, and The American Conservative on the right, and many more in between, depend upon lower postal rates. They are all in jeopardy, and with them the breadth and depth of our discourse.