Should newspapers have a CPB equivalent?

Print More

With newspapers still struggling to become financially viable, one journalist is arguing that they should seek to emulate the funding model already supporting public media.

Writing for the Courier Herald in Enumclaw, Wash., reporter Ray Still proposes:

…. the creation of the Corporation for Public Publishing, the CPB equivalent for non-profit print products, and the passing of a Congress in the Public Publishing Act, to encourage the growth and development of public publishing for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes.

(I pulled that language straight from the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. We’ve done it once and we can do it again.)

As with CPB, Still proposes that federal money funneled through this “CPP” would be made available through “community service grants, education grants, system grants and more to nonprofits dedicated to education, entertainment and, of course, news, in the form of regularly printed programs.” Newspapers would become nonprofit companies that could either remain independent or team up to share content among members, à la NPR or PBS.

Without being dependent on advertisers, nonprofit newspapers would look to their communities for support, Still writes, making them accountable to local wants and needs.

“Huge change is exactly what newspapers need in order to keep up with the needs of the country,” Still writes.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Joellen Easton

    As a former public media staffer (WGBH, BBC/PRI, and then MPR/APM) who has recently moved to a commercial newspaper (Bangor Daily News), I see both potential and problems in Still’s vision: Nonprofit status and funding could release publishers from the race to survive, and could allow them to refocus entirely on serving their communities. However, that race to survive creates a vitality which I never saw in my almost 20 years in public media. A newspaper in need of a survival strategy must innovate, adapt, and recalibrate all at a rapid pace.

    Still suggests that dependence on advertisers means that for-profit publishers are not accountable to local wants and needs because they do not depend on their communities for support. But it is that same dependence on advertisers that ties local commercial news outlets so tightly to their communities, and no executive editor worth their salt would let that affect editorial outcomes any more than a public radio program accepting Monsanto underwriting would compromise its sustainability reporting.

    At the same time as it’s certainly worth exploring nonprofit status for at the very least certain divisions of newspaper newsrooms (such as investigative and enterprise reporting groups), public media outlets should also look within and ask themselves why their pace of innovation can’t be faster.

  • Paul Cook

    …federal money…
    ~ sigh. Seems like another attempt to reach into my wallet.

  • Brad Deltan

    Oh god, the First Amendment problems with this idea are legion.

    Look, the only…ONLY…reason why CPB works at all for radio and TV is because the federal gov’t decided a long time ago that the airwaves are a “scarce resource” that is held in the public’s trust by the government. While in practice it almost never happens (although it appears it’s about to with KDND in San Francisco) the government can decide at pretty any time that a license-holder is not acting in the public’s interest and their license to broadcast can be revoked.

    Therefore, several First Amendment concerns do not apply. And there’s been quite a few court cases that have explored the ramifications of that quite thoroughly.

    But newspapers are, quite famously, available to anyone with a printing press. Heck these days you don’t even need that…just a WordPress account and an internet connection. There is no “scarcity” whatsoever.

    That means by definition the federal government is regulating speech, because it’s choosing who gets grants and who doesn’t. That just isn’t going to fly.

    Even if you somehow got around the First Amendment concerns…the practical realities are heinous, too. How DO you decide who gets the grants and who doesn’t? Almost immediately there WILL be politically-motivated attempts to get funding for liberal-leaning or conservative-leaning publications. What about religious publications?

    I suppose one way to deal with that, and not a good way, is to graft an artificial model of “scarcity” onto the publication world. Have the government decide that there’s only so many news outlets they’re going to allow (and fund) in a given market. And anyone who wants this funding has to surrender “ownership” to the federal government and is now “licensing” that ability to print news from the gov’t. Obviously this gets even deeper into HUGE First Amendment problems, but at least it would help bypass the problem of who gets the funding.

  • TomKaz

    $20 trillion in debt and a media industrial complex dominated by progressives…and these partisan ideologues have the gall to propose a Corporation for Public Publishing? LOL. Has it ever occurred to these Leftists that newspapers are failing because they’ve become mouthpieces for one political party, alienating half of their potential readers?

    • Brad Deltan

      Has it ever occurred to you that there’s far more conservative-leaning newspapers out there than progressive ones? It’s just basic math. Sure the BIG newspapers tend to skew more progressive because they’re based in progressive cities/regions.

      But by *land area* the United States skews heavily conservative. That means there’s a lot more conservative towns out there than there are liberal cities, and each town (broadly speaking) has a newspaper. So by simple deduction, there’s a lot more conservative newspapers than progressive newspapers.

      Also it’s worth noting that, broadly speaking, because of that same breakdown, there’s a lot more conservative newspapers that’re sinking financially than progressive ones.