observations and opinion
We must create a public and self-funded non-profit infrastructure for independent journalism.
This article is a follow-up to The Free Press Crisis.
We know there is a financial crisis afflicting journalism. We know the traditional institutions and infrastructure of journalism are collapsing. With that, we can readily predict that those working inside those structures – independent journalists – will flee or perish (metaphorically) in the rubble. Where will the survivors go to practice their essential business?
My thesis is that the free press is as vital a part of our democracy as the legislature and the judiciary. It is as key to our social survival as organized education. The press is as integral to daily life as electricity, hospitals and roads. There is a compelling historical, maybe constitutional duty, to create a safe structure for independent journalism. And now is already too late.
What do we do? Let’s remind ourselves first of what we do not do: pour money into the quicksand of the existing media companies. Enough has disappeared down those holes and frankly, saving them now will not repair the damage already done.
On to what we should do:
Sceptics (that will be most people who read this) will want to know how we protect independent journalism from the power of the purse. Isn’t there a possibility of state interference or control of journalism, through money? Yes, if we get it wrong. But it is not hard to get it right. We already do it, better than just about anyone on the planet.
Where? With our judiciary. No serious person doubts the independence or integrity of the Canadian judiciary, at any level. We have a model for this and experience with it. We also have an urgent need.
The only reason not to do this, or something like it, is because we don’t think society needs a safe financial structure for independent journalism. Such a view would be based on one of two beliefs: (1) the free press is not that important, or (2) we don’t believe it is at risk. But who among us really believes either of those propositions?
When the financial sector was set to collapse in the USA, taking the world with it, even that country adopted widespread forms of temporary government action to avert disaster. None of the errors in that need be replicated (no one in media is “too big to fail” and no private for-profit operator should get a nickel in public money) in taking far more modest steps to create a public and self-funded non profit infrastructure for independent journalism.
It is time for journalists, citizens and public officials to open their minds to a realistic way to sustain the free press, on a permanent basis.