Content-neutral journalism subsidies

In The Death and Life of American Journalism, Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols argue that American journalism benefited from early policies that provided content-neutral government subsidies to a wide variety of newspapers. Chief amongst these policies was a low postage rate for newspapers, which invigorated newspaper distribution. Such policies are similar in some ways to existing policies like non-profit status for religious institutions, which amounts to a significant reduction of government revenues.

Looking forward, the book argues that government can reimagine content-neutral journalism subsidies in the future. These ideas range from an opt-in tax contribution to journalism, similar to the existing clean elections checbox on IRS forms; to more robust jobs programs for laid-off journalists; and so forth.

For the most part the book targets journalism policy at the federal level, but it is reasonable to imagine similar policies at the state and municipal level; in some localities it is easier to experiment with such new policies. For example, a state could add a journalism donation option to its state tax forms and use the revenues to subsidize local coverage within that state.

The book is over ten years old, and as a result misses some of the latest trends in journalism and social media. Many of these ideas could be augmented or joined to more modern analogs - e.g., policies which provide subsidies for technology infrastructure for independent journalism projects, educational programs which support data-driven journalism, etc.

Applied at scale, such policies could begin to neutralize the insidious influence of the large-scale, decades-long private investments in right-wing opinion journalism.