U.S. Sen. John Kerry held hearings this summer on the future of journalism — but in truth, it was about a possible newspaper bailout.
Every industry group considered too important to fail is getting a bailout of some kind, so why not media too, or so goes some of the current thinking.
There’s grave concern about the industry.
The Fourth Estate — so called because a free press is seen as part of the system of checks and balances involving all branches of government — is in trouble.
Newspapers around the country are facing closure or diminished futures as the credit crisis continues.
Local broadcasters and frankly, all of the Old Media, are in trouble, thanks to the Internet and target marketing, which allows advertisers access to specific audiences.
There’s a decline in journalism and media jobs in this transformation from the Old Media to the New Media taking place in America.
Many reporters, editors and other staff have already been laid off and are hurting. And the deep recession aggravates the changes taking place.
But the concerns are worse.
There’s a close relationship among free enterprise, a free press and democracy.
Would we really know about Enron, abuses in the Catholic Church, the Bush era misuse of espionage, “Duke” Cunningham or the pension deficit in San Diego and its impact if it weren’t for the media?
The Obama Opportunity
So, what can or should we, or more precisely the Obama administration, do to minimize the adverse effects of this ear of great change, clearly exacerbated by the recession, to preserve our media?
Firstly, if the Internet is now the New Media, everybody has to have access.
Not just the rich, the educated and those living in big cities.
The Internet has to be ubiquitous and affordable.
The urgent need for access to broadband Internet is not unlike the invention of the telephone when government anointed the Bell System, created a monopoly and the Federal Communications Commission to be sure the nation was wired and the telephone was accessible and affordable.
The U.S. needs a similarly aggressive plan for broadband Internet today.
Under the so-called stimulus bill requiring the FCC to rethink our national strategy for telecommunications, we should expect a new strategy, perhaps by creating a new government funded infrastructure, the conduit if you will, and letting everyone compete fully over provision of services or content.
Most certainly, President Obama has to do something radical to get America back on track.
But even a plan to build new information infrastructures is not enough.
The transition to an Internet world is happening so fast, America needs a course in media literacy.
Young and old alike are being left out of the shift in consumer and citizen habits and retraining must be high on the agenda.
Lastly, we need new laws to allow news and journalism organizations to incorporate as tax exempt organizations.
Good news gathering, investigative journalism, is too important to all our freedoms, our way of life, our very existence as Americans not to allow this change in the tax code.
We need also to change the way we think about the Fourth Estate: We have an obligation to keep ourselves informed about the issues of the day, as well as preserve and protect our news organizations.
We cannot allow so many newspapers and news organizations to simply die.
John M. Eger is Van Deerlin endowed chair of communications and public policy in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.