CounterSpin listeners understand that the news media situation in this country works against our democratic aspirations. There are so many problems crying out for open, inclusive conversation, in which those with the most power don’t get the biggest megaphone, leaving the vast majority outside of power to try and shout into the dominant noise, or try to find the space to talk around it. It’s no surprise, in that context, that conversations about how to make a different media system—differently structured, differently accountable—are among the hardest to have. But while corporate media can give the impression that, like it or not, billionaires controlling the flow of information is the only way things can go, that, like a lot of the elite narrative on political possibility, is simply untrue. One project proving that is an effort to replenish and re-imagine local news, which listeners know has suffered dramatically in years of media consolidation, in this case in New Jersey.
More than one in five local papers in the US have closed in just the last 15 years or so. And, yes, people are moving away from print as a form. But who is filling the void of regular, relevant, local reporting, informing people at the level at which most people engage? Activists are tired of lamenting rampant consolidation, and the exclusion of new and diverse voices in news media. They’re working around the country on projects that both demand accountability from existing institutions and envision new systems, new processes, new ways of doing journalism that more accurately reflect and support communities. We’re joined now by Craig Aaron, co-CEO with Jessica Gonzalez of the group Free Press. He joins us now by phone from Maryland. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Craig Aaron.
On Monday, Free Press Action released a comprehensive series of policy recommendations that Congress should adopt to save local journalism and put tens of thousands of reporters back to work during and after the coronavirus pandemic. The proposal, What a Journalism-Recovery Package Should Look Like During the COVID-19 Crisis, includes billions in direct and indirect subsidies to journalists, as well as increases in federal support for public-media institutions that would protect a significant number of local reporting jobs. Among the immediate recommendations are direct emergency payments to newsroom workers, news-outlet tax credits to retain and boost the number of newsroom jobs, increased public-media funding, and accelerated federal-ad spending.
Americans, generally speaking at least, think it is right and good that they and their neighbors have access to books. And magazines and newspapers. And internet access when you need it. And places to sit and read. And a trusted source you can call when you have a question you can’t figure out the answer to. These things cost money, and it’s unlikely the magic of the marketplace will find a way to make all of them universally accessible. So people in nearly every community nationwide have funded and supported these things called libraries. In many places, those libraries are funded by a special dedicated tax or fee, which goes to buy those books, pay for that internet access, keep the lights on, and so on.