NEWSPAPERS: Do we need them badly enough to provide public financing?

The New York Times reports today on an effort in New Jersey to provide taxpayer money to support local newspapers. If public dollars support public radio and public TV, why not newspapers, too? I can see some political difficulties.

A few things are clear. Newspapers are in crisis because of declining ad revenue and readership. A new newsprint tariff may put still more out of business. The loss of local reporting inevitably leads to more government waste and abuse. But is public financing the answer? New Jersey is experimenting.

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The state’s lawmakers have embarked on a novel experiment to address a local news crisis: putting up millions of dollars in the state’s most recent budget to pay for community journalism. While public television and radio stations have long received government funds, new media experts like Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute say they have not heard of any other efforts on this scale, with a state helping to pay for reporting projects among a range of news media, including for-profit outlets.

The article goes on to explain the issue in detail, including potential ethical pitfalls and the possibility of governmental intrusion.

The practical problem: Will a one-party state allow an outlet known for criticism of that party to get on the taxpayer dole? Will outlets that dish up fawning coverage or avoid tough questions be favored?  We have some circumstantial evidence to work with here.

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