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.”
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.