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A Real Proposal for the Survival of Newspapers

There is an extraordinary article that just appeared in The Nation by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney on “The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers” that argues not only the newspaper’s overwhelming importance to an informed democracy but raises concrete proposals on how to ensure its survival: “What to do about newspapers? Let’s give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers. The newspapers would have to publish at least five times per week and maintain a substantial ‘news hole,’ say at least twenty-four broad pages each day, with less than 50 percent advertising. In effect, this means the government will pay for every citizen who so desires to get a free daily newspaper subscription, but the taxpayer gets to pick the newspaper–this is an indirect subsidy, because the government does not control who gets the money. This will buy time for our old media newsrooms–and for us citizens–to develop a plan to establish journalism in the digital era.”

The authors continue: “Currently the government spends less than $450 million annually on public media. (To put matters in perspective, it spends several times that much on Pentagon public relations designed, among other things, to encourage favorable press coverage of the wars that the vast majority of Americans oppose.) Based on what other highly democratic and free countries do, the allocation from the government should be closer to $10 billion.”

It is a must-read (and again thanks to Donna DeCesare for pointing it out), probably the first piece that has appeared which offers convincing and pragmatic solutions. As two Washington Post executives argue in the article, “A great news organization is difficult to build and tragically easy to disassemble.” There is no question that they are right. Maybe it is time our society does something about it?

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