Journalism Needs Government Help???

The President of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, makes a case in today’s Wall Street Journal that journalism needs government government help.  One of the staples of his case:

To take a very current example, we trust our great newspapers to collect millions of dollars in advertising from BP while reporting without fear or favor on the company’s environmental record only because of a professional culture that insulates revenue from news judgment.

Actually, we don’t.  Or, at least, I don’t.  You are very silly if you do not think the source of advertising dollars has no effect on reporting just as you’d be very silly to think that funding journalism from government would have no effect.


Here’s another gem from Bollinger’s column:

There are examples of other institutions in the U.S. where state support does not translate into official control. The most compelling are our public universities and our federal programs for dispensing billions of dollars annually for research. Those of us in public and private research universities care every bit as much about academic freedom as journalists care about a free press.

Bollinger tries to hide a strawman in the first sentence with “…does not translate into official control.”  I imagine few critics of Bollinger’s case would argue that government funding would need to lead to “official control” to cause trust issues.

Scroll up to the first paragraph I quoted.  There he makes a case that merely funding from companies like BP leads to credibility concerns without  it having led to “official control.”

Bollinger makes sure to use of the words “official control”.  This concerns me.  As an insider to the university scene, does he know that he can’t honestly claim that it doesn’t have any effect on academic freedom?

His last sentence concerns me as well.  First, journalists seem to care more about a press that allows them to express a liberal worldview than a free press.  Second, it sure seems like university staff are in the tank for big government.  Perhaps by “academic freedom” he means freedom to put out products that people don’t want.  Government funding certainly allows this to happen.

Update #2:

As mentioned to dave in the comments, Bollinger is getting a taste of the market in the comment section of his op-ed piece.  Not pretty.  Here are excerpts from one comment from sample from Adam Fort:

I am a former reporter and this op-ed is laughable.

In J-school, my professors were left-wing. At my daily college paper, most everyone was left wing. My first job – almost all left wing. Second job – almost all left wing. It was like this my entire career. I’ve written for some of the largest newspapers in America, after having started for one of the smallest. Doesn’t matter where in the country you are, newsrooms are infested by the same kind of people. This isn’t entirely what’s killing the industry, but it’s a big part of it.

One sentence out of the op-ed I find thoroughly disgusting: “Trusting the market alone to provide all the news coverage we need would mean venturing into the unknown—a risky proposition with a vital public institution hanging in the balance.”

Think about that for a second. Journalism is so important, it can’t be left to the free market.

Because the free market rejects one good or service, does that mean the free market must be ditched (or, in this case, the producer ditch it for public assistance for survival?) When did this attitude become a proud, American trait?

4 thoughts on “Journalism Needs Government Help???

  1. pravda, anyone?

    from wikipedia: Subscription to Pravda was mandatory for state run companies, the armed services and other organizations until 1989.[3]

    i seriously doubt this guy has ever had to rely on the
    for his contact with the outside world. imagine fox skews selectively censored and rebroadcasted about a week later.

    its clear that none of the major media outlets have any interest in telling the truth. how many body bags have you seen being unloaded during this war on terror that has been going on for ten years?

    great npr story on today.

    wait a second…npr…the government already supports journalism.

  2. i guess i think its odd that he is blaming the internet for the /decline/ of journalism. when i see the exact opposite effect. the internet – bloggers like you, tweets from iran. /is/ journalism.

    • Thanks dave. wikileaks – That is interesting.

      The comments on all of these sites are great too. Certainly adds another dimension to the stories. Bollinger is taking it on the chin in the comments to his piece. There’s a dose of market reality for him.

      That’s probably why he favors government funding. They’re not nearly as hard to please, especially when you’re in the tank for them.

  3. Pingback: Journalism Needs Government Help??? Update « Our Dinner Table


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