The Wrong Way to Reinvent Media: A New Series of Essays

by on March 23, 2010 · 8 comments

By Adam Thierer & Berin Szoka

In a series of upcoming essays, we will be examining proposals being put forward today that would have the government play a greater role in sustaining struggling media enterprises, “saving journalism,” or promoting more “public interest” content. The reason we’re working up this multi-part series is because, with many traditional media operators struggling, and questions being raised about how journalism in particular will be supported in the future, Washington policymakers are currently considering what role government can and should play in helping media providers reinvent themselves in the face of tumultuous technological change wrought by the Digital Revolution.

For example, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently kicked off a new “Future of Media” effort with a workshop on “Serving the Public Interest in the Digital Era.” (The  filing deadline for the FCC’s “Future of Media” proceeding is May 7th).  Likewise, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has hosted two workshops asking “How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?”  Meanwhile, the Senate has already held hearings about “the future of journalism,” and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) recently introduced the “Newspaper Revitalization Act,” which would allow newspapers to become tax-exempt non-profits in an effort to help them stay afloat.

Thus, in light of Washington’s sudden interest in the future of media and journalism, we will be taking a hard look at several issues and proposals that are being floated today, including:

  • Taxes on media devices, mobile phones, or broadband bills to channel money to media enterprises / content;
  • Taxes / fees on broadcasters to funnel support to their public sector competitors or to public interest programs;
  • “News vouchers” or “public interest vouchers” that would encourage citizens to channel support to media providers;
  • Taxes on private advertising to subsidize non-commercial / public media content;
  • Expanded postal subsidies for media mail; and
  • Targeted welfare programs for out-of-work journalists or corporate welfare in the form of bailouts for failing media enterprises.

You won’t be surprised to hear that we are generally quite skeptical of most of these ideas, but we promise to give each one serious consideration.  We’ll kick things off tomorrow with our essay on why taxing media devices or distribution systems to fund media content is not a particularly good idea.

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