Journalist Calls For Government Assistance…For Journalists

Duncan Riley - Author

Jun. 15 2013, Updated 5:23 p.m. ET

One of the predictions I forgot to make for 2009 is one of a media bailout: some sort of Government intervention in the media industry as it plummets into the abyss. I’m probably glad I didn’t make it; while there will be a chorus for Government assistance in media this year, no one really knows whether the Obama Administration will be favorable to the calls or not.

The first call came back in November, when Connecticut State Representatives are petitioning the State to subsidize The Bristol Press and The Herald of New Britain. They didn’t get exactly what they want, but they did received everything but money upfront: tax relief and training subsidies to be specific.

The newest call for Government Assistance comes from Sara Catania, ironically in the Huffington Post.

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Catania doesn’t call for a media bailout, but instead argues for Government subsidized journalism. Her idea: grants for journalists to undertake journalism, because they can’t make any money in this environment. Her theory is that by subsidizing journalists, through a non-profit or charity organization, Government funded but at arms length to Government, journalists can have their slice of Government cake, without the conflict of interest issues arising from reporting on a Government that pays your bills.

Like some journalist though, where her argument fails is in the intellectual snobbery of the new media denialist movement. According to Catania and people like her, what happens online from people who aren’t trained journalists, isn’t journalism; likewise journalism dies if people like her don’t undertake it.

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Our aspirational society, in order to create a more perfect union, needs journalism. Not gossip, not snark, not uninformed blather that passes for opinion, but good, solid reporting. Investigations, deep features, reporting-driven storytelling. These are the stories that show us who we are, that shape the narrative of our lives and the life of our nation. But it’s getting harder to sustain the journalism needed to tell those stories.

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I’m trying hard not to dwell on the irony of her writing this for the Huffington Post, an online publication that took a round of $35 million in December for among other things: investigative journalism, but it’s hard to ignore.

The argument that journalism is dying has already been disproved many times before. It is the last argument of those unable to adapt to the new reality of publishing news. Quite the opposite, journalism, in its many forms is the strongest it has ever been in the history of man kind. No longer is the written word the exclusive domain of an elite few, and guided by media proprietors with set agendas.

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That some journalists are finding it tough does not equal there is no money to be had either. Smart journalists, and media companies have embraced new media, and while they may not have replaced their offline revenue streams in full yet, even during the recession online streams at some outlets have actually increased at a time print advertising in particular is dying. The true difference today is that the closed markets of old have been replaced by open markets with vibrant competition, and it is in these spaces that some journalists believe that the market is unfair. The time of Journalism as a closed shop with life long opportunities has passed.

I could go on forever on many of her points, but I’d close on this one: if Sara Catania cannot find adequate compensation for her work, then as it would be in any other person, she needs to adjust what she is doing, or simply find another line of work. Journalism will continue with or with her, but her underemployment or payment should not be subject to Government assistance beyond what any person in any field might receive in unemployment benefits. That she is employed today makes this more so the case: at a time millions are facing unemployment, it is obscene that a journalist making some money should be asking Government to cough up for more money, because their current compensation doesn’t equip them in the lifestyle they once enjoyed.

One last note: Catania thinks she better than others because she teaches journalism and has numerous awards. The most prestigious award in journalism is named after someone who had no degree in journalism. The first journalist schools and courses emerged in the early part of the 20th century. By Catania’s thinking, journalism must not have existed before then, like she believes that someone at may not again exist in the near future. There’s another thing Joseph Pulitzer was famous for as well: yellow journalism.


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