It may not be a coincidence that Washington Democrats want to throw lifelines to the fourth estate/column as a means to protect their crumbling citadel of power, that Republican Rep. Steve Scalise is more than willing to challenge.
As newspaper revenues have gone into steep decline and with that employment, much handwringing has occurred among media elites. The vast changes in the infrastructure of news delivery have disempowered outlets dependent upon print and empowered electronic media, both of the old kind (radio and television) and of the new (Internet and direct dissemination such as by podcasting), because these delivery costs are much lower.
Yet that’s only part of the reason why newspapers have disappeared and outlets have shed coverage. If they delivered what customers wanted, they could fight this trend. But they don’t because of an agenda more and more skewed ideologically away from daily concerns and towards leftist talking points, leading to record levels of distrust. As the media as a whole has alienated consumers not on the political left, this has created a vicious cycle where many outlets print ever further to the left in coverage choices so as to capture the only segment of society with willingness to believe what the mainstream media deliver, liberals.
It’s no accident that the few newspapers who haven’t seen much decline over the past two decades have veered more and more to the left (even the Wall Street Journal, long considered the only real national conservative newspaper, has crept that way in coverage) to cater to this audience, becoming even more one-sided both in coverage and on their opinion pages. But the vast majority, even if pursuing this strategy, continue to hemorrhage dollars.
As a result, the chattering classes increasingly have rallied around a government subsidization model to make newspapers quasi-public charges, since they are failing in the marketplace of ideas. This is nothing new in American history, which points to how badly for fair and impartial news delivery it would turn out.
Governments subsidized newspapers up to the 20th century, although that began to wane when the Civil War commenced. Typically, this was done through printing contracts by government – a vestige of which survives by archaic laws requiring printing public notices in newspapers which could be done far more cheaply via government web sites. This produced an extremely partisan press, with many cities even of modest size having competing newspapers, with at least one aligned with the party in power and the other the out-party at that time (and often it was more complicated than this, with factions of parties represented by differing papers).
With the move towards a catch-all coverage model with balanced presentation starting in the 20th century – trying not to alienate a swath of readers – hastened by new competition, the electronic media, ideological bias per outlet decreased. But as the industry began to decline, journalist attitudes changing as practitioners became more elitist pushed out willingness to cover stories that presented more favorable pictures of conservative policies, leaving today’s present imbalance – and vulnerability to a changing landscape.
When House Democrats in the latest version of their spending bill, after having excised the measure until poor election results last week intervened, put in a provision to grant payroll tax credit to local news outlets, Scalise rightly diagnosed their impetus. The credit would cover 50 percent of wages of up to $50,000 per journalist in its first year, and 30 percent of wages of up to $50,000 in years after that, expiring after 2025. “[T]his is [Democrat Pres. Joe] Biden and Dems in Congress helping pay the reporters’ salaries who cover for them” he said of the measure that would cost $1.67 billion over its life.
The chattering classes defend the item, as typically displayed by the head of the leftist interest group PEN America – which has argued against free speech, for campus restrictions, and regularly issued anti-GOP pres. Donald Trump screeds – wrote that without government shoring of local journalism, there would be “misinformation” and “fake news” as well as loss of citizen engagement that would threaten government accountability.
As to the latter point, there seems to be no shortage of that as non-print outlets take up any slack, and to that witness the stunningly-high turnout in Virginia’s election driven by media coverage outside mainstream newspapers. But perhaps she has a point with “misinformation” and “fake news”: as recent events continue to demonstrate the utter falsity of the “Russia Hoax,” the two outlets that won Pulitzer Prizes for this manufactured controversy they aided and abetted would be beneficiaries of the provision.
However, we know where this would lead, as history demonstrates – an even more partisan press relieved of its responsibility to survive in the marketplace, sucking up to the political party that promises these pecuniary rewards in order to keep them coming. As Scalise correctly implies, this corrupt arrangement (on display with public television and radio, which get direct dollars that almost always go towards disseminating national, not local, news) more likely than increasing impartial coverage will magnify biased mouthpieces that detract from solving the presumed ills of a collapsing newspaper industry that won’t save itself by detaching itself from ideology.