Commentary

Bernie Sanders Has Misguided Plan To Save Journalism

Sen. Bernie Sanders this week took another crack at “corporate media” — a consistent theme in his presidential run — while describing a misguided plan to save news publishers.

Almost two weeks after walking back his criticism of The Washington Post, which he had suggested was a mouthpiece for owner Jeff Bezos, Sanders described a scheme that would re-order the news business with taxes, cross-subsidies and trust-busting.

In an op-ed for the Columbia Journalism Review, Sanders takes aim at “corporate conglomerates and hedge fund vultures” that are taking over newspapers and eviscerating their editorial teams. He also blasts Facebook and Google for being “forces of greed that are pillaging our economy.”

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It is true the newspaper industry has seen collapsing ad revenue, lower circulation and significant job losses. Newsroom employment has dropped by 25% since 2008, and ad revenue is down 70% from a peak of $50 billion 2005, according to Pew Research Center.

Sanders also proposes new taxes on online targeted ads, and using the proceeds to fund nonprofit civic-minded media. It’s highly doubtful that a government-funded news provider will be a better watchdog of local officials than an independent publisher. Also, a tax-funded news source will compete with local publishers that already face enough threats.

Sanders needs to recognize that the news business is subject to market forces too big to tame with more government regulation. Consumers have found other sources for news, including pay-TV and a superabundance of digital publishers.

I’d like to think that quality journalism will find a paying audience, especially at the local level, and generate ad revenue that supports a sustainable business.

5 comments about "Bernie Sanders Has Misguided Plan To Save Journalism".
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  1. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, August 30, 2019 at 7:56 a.m.

    Sanders offers a solution reliant on new taxes. From a personal standpoint, I have to note ... What else is new?

  2. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, August 30, 2019 at 3:49 p.m.

    Rob, the problem is in your penultimate paragraph: any socialist acknowledging "market forces boo big to tame with government regulation" would obliderate socialism's whole reason for being.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 30, 2019 at 9:02 p.m.

    Who else is coming up with a better solution and for sure one is needed ? If not this, then we are wait for someone else's.

  4. Joe Shain from Allscope Direct, August 31, 2019 at 8:28 a.m.

    Let the socialists have their way and and newspapers that are not leftist will be silenced by choking
    off the subsidies that the leftists will
    enjoy.  If the sense that deficits don’t matter is setting up a terrible crisis for oour children and grandchildren 

  5. Doc Searls from ProjectVRM, September 1, 2019 at 12:03 p.m.

    Journalism as we knew it—scarce and authoritative media resources on print and air—has boundless competition now from, well, everybody.

    We are digital now. (Proof: try living without your computer and smartphone.) As digital beings we float in a sea of "content," very little of which is curated, and much of which is both fake and funded by the same systems (Google, Facebook and the four-dimensional shell game called adtech) that today rewards publishers for bringing tracked eyeballs to robots so they can be speared with "relevant" and "interactive" ads. The systems urging those eyeballs toward advertising spears are biased to fan emotional fires, much of which reduces to emnity toward "the other," whatever who or what that may be, dividing worlds of people into opposing camps (each an "other" for the "other"). Because, hey, it's good for the ad business, which includes everyone it pays. Meanwhile, the surviving authoritative sources of journalism have themselves fallen back on opinion while scaling back on money spent on reporters, editors, bureaus and beats. The reliable funding source for good journalism, true brand advertising, is now mostly self-quarantined to major broadcast media, while the "behavioral" kind rules online, despite attempts by regulators (especially in Europe) to stamp it out. (Because it is in fact totally rude.)


    Then there's the problem of news surfeit, which trivializes everything with its abundance, no matter how essential and important a given story may be. (More about that here: http://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2019/08/27/the-great-trivializer/.)


    And finally there's the problem of "the story"—journalism's stock-in-trade. Not everything that matters fits the story format (character, problem, movement), and we're living in a time when the most effective political leaders are giant characters who traffic in generating problems that attract news coverage like a black hole attracts everything nearby that might give light. (More about that here: http://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2019/07/23/where-journalism-fails/.)


    Against all those developments at once, there is not a damn thing lawmakers or regulators can do. Grandstanding such as Sanders does in this case can only add to the noise, which Google's and Facebook's giant robots are still happy to fund.

    Good luck, folks.

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