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Letter to the Editor: America needs public media more than ever

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Almost 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson was fighting to make 2016 better than it has been. Johnson was stumping for the Public Broadcasting Act, designed to fund independent journalism to cover vital yet unprofitable topics. After budget cuts, the act passed as a pale version of its former self. Fast-forward to today and witness three out of every five Americans distrustful of the mainstream media, an all-time low.

Johnson’s idea of an “American BBC” is perhaps even more relevant today than it was in the 1960s. The United States federal government needs to substantially increase its funding of public broadcasting. There is a clear demand for a robust, independent press — publicly funded, but free of government interference.  This journalism is not confined to Johnson’s vision of a television network, but expanded to any medium that promotes the Jeffersonian ideal that liberty is “a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree.”

I do not wish to determine whether American distrust in the media is actually warranted. For the sake of the argument presented here, it need only be shown that said demand for media exists. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, less than one in three Republicans trusts the “mass media.” The statistics for Democrats remain higher at slightly more than half, but the trust of independents has fallen down to one in three.

The lack of trust in mass media fuels Americans’ demand for public-interest journalism. Many people have turned to alternative sources of news, like highly partisan Facebook groups. A recent report by BuzzFeed revealed that between 20 and 40 percent of posts to these pages over the past year contained mostly false or a mix of true and false information. At the same time, these highly partisan pages like Occupy Democrats or Right Wing News have more fans on Facebook than Politico, CNN or ABC News.

Clearly, media corporations like Comcast, CBS, or Time Warner are not delivering the quantity of solid journalism that consumers desire. The solution to this problem lies with well-funded reporting on television and online. In their 2011 book, “The Death and Life of American Journalism,” Robert McChesney and John Nichols show that many countries, particularly in Europe, fund public broadcasting as much as 75 times that of what we do in the United States.

This higher degree of funding is worth it. A 2009 study in the European Journal of Communication showed that those living in countries with well-funded, nonprofit, noncommercial broadcasting systems had a higher degree of political knowledge. There is also a smaller knowledge gap between the rich and poor in these countries.

Some may point out the existence of PBS and NPR and claim that America already funds independent media. These “titans” of public broadcasting currently receive 0.014 percent of the federal budget and even get less than 20 percent of their funding from the government. Most of the money allocated to PBS goes toward children’s programming. Simply put, these organizations aren’t cutting it.

Informative, independent journalism is a public good. This means that private firms tend to produce too little of it because it isn’t profitable. Real journalism is expensive, but it is incredibly important to cultivate an informed public. Government can provide a solution to issues with cost and quality. Perhaps Congress should start by creating a well-funded internet news site that can afford highly competent journalists who support nuanced views. This could be followed up by a television network. One thing is for certain: the demand is there.

6 comments

  1. Excellent article. More relevant now than ever.

  2. We have had one of the greatest awakenings and overthrows in political history, and the public media didn’t even see it coming. Heck with both Bernie and Trump they did their best to kill it. I remember seeing PBS smearing Bernie and despite looking like idiots they are still trying to hammer Trump. BBC was shocked with BREXIT. TV5Monde can’t figure out why theFrench people are tired of their people being slaughtered by migrants and why Marine LaPen is so popular.

    We have enough “public media.” Our primary news “media” is owned by what 6 corporations that benefit most from the military,health and welfare complexes? These companies set policies for all of us. Every commercial pushes an anti depressant drug or a pill. Furthermore, Have you watched pbs news hour recently? It’s disgusting, they have the same talking points as the rest of the con artists. They obviously have no concern for expanding the political knowledge of Americans.To Be honest,the Internet is where it’s at and if you want truth you should do all you can to keep it free. Decentralize the media…that’s what the Internet does. More “public” media is the exact wrong way to achieve a free and informed society. The truth is available to the people better than anytime in history…the question is when will people wake up and seek it…..oh wait that requires responsibility.

    • What part of this article is arguing to maintain the status quo? It clearly states that PBS isn’t cutting it. So your argument that PBS news hour recycles the same talking points is invalid. Additionally, internet news sources cannot possibly fill the role of a well-funded public media system. Do you understand how expensive it is to keep bureaus of reporters in Moscow, in New York, in Beijing, in London, in LA, and all over the rest of the world as well? A system of generating revenue on the internet has yet to be found that can bring in enough revenue to support the manpower necessary to accurately report world news.

      Also, your point about the six major media companies is actually in-line with the arguments of this piece. Those companies do not represent public media, but private media.

      • The article, when referring to PBS and NPR, only said that they get a minuscule amount of the Federal Budget, and get most of their funding from outside donations.

        The problem is that PBS and NPR are just as biased as any of the other major media news sources. It is very difficult to get a truly balanced informative story on much of anything, especially politics, without culling multiple sources from across the spectrum. Everyone has an agenda. Even C-SPAN has an agenda for most of its programming beyond its main focus, that of televising actions on the floor of Congress. So PBS and NPR in their current forms are not an answer to getting true, unbiased “news”. The Internet is a place to find those voices across the spectrum, but since the explosion of false “news” sites and Soros-funded misinformation, the Net is as tainted as everything else.

  3. I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. thanks for this article sharing.

  4. I was the editor of the Lantern in 1954-55. Only became aware of this website because of the recent news about the terrorist attack. Have a couple of questions for you: Does the editor still have the rolltop desk? Are you the editor for the whole school year? Do you still have the lantern sitting on your desk? As a matter of interest, I picked up that lantern from a construction site on the way home from a party. Dr. Pollard was the head of the journalism school when I was there. I was a Marine selected for the NROTC program and when I was graduated in ’55 I went back to the Corps. Had a few PIO jobs during my 25 years. My how things have changed at the Lantern! Good Luck.

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