20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
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2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
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2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

We reclaim a public good

“By changing news media’s core structures of ownership and control, we will finally let journalists be journalists.”

In 2020, we will come to see the journalism crisis as an opportunity to reclaim and reinvent a public good. This shift in how we see a national — and increasingly global — tragedy will come gradually. But as the ravages of systemic market failure become increasingly undeniable — growing news deserts, widening informational divides, and vulture capitalists picking over what remains of the fourth estate — we’ll be forced to transcend commercial confines to imagine a new kind of journalism based on public ownership.

In many ways, this will be a return to sanity. News was never meant to be merely a commodity, and publishers’ fealty to the market has always caused social harms. Today, as profit-seeking drives journalism into the ground, we must decide whether to let all but a few national papers and niche news outlets perish, or whether we instead salvage good assets from bad owners and rescue from the market’s maw an indispensable public service and democratic infrastructure.

What might this look like? More newspapers will follow the path of The Salt Lake Tribune and transition to nonprofit status. More local groups will leverage public spaces like libraries and post offices to become community sites for media production. More state governments will make public investments in local news. Platform monopolies such as Google and Facebook will be forced to pay a public media tax to support local and global journalism. More public broadcast stations will combine with digital outlets to create multi-media hubs. News cooperatives and other experiments will take root across the country.

Looking to a post-Trump era, we will embrace social-democratic alternatives to hyper-capitalistic media. We can draw inspiration from past American initiatives such as municipal newspapers and independent phone cooperatives, which rose up in direct response to market failures and commercial excesses.

In 2020, we will return to fundamental debates about journalism’s normative role in a democratic society. No longer serving commercial imperatives, our news media will come to disavow clickbait, invasive and deceptive advertising, and sensationalistic, trivializing commentary. We might even actualize an adversarial press, one that ruthlessly confronts power, doggedly covers social problems like inequality and climate change, and gives voice to those who have been silenced.

Liberated from profit-driven, absentee owners and instead governed by the journalists themselves and by representative members of the public, newsrooms will look more like the diverse communities they serve. By changing news media’s core structures of ownership and control, we will finally let journalists be journalists.

As the commercial model continues to collapse, we can dare imagine what a truly publicly owned, democratically controlled media system might look like. In 2020, we’ll at last treat journalism as an essential public service — a core infrastructure — that democracy needs to survive.

Victor Pickard is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.

In 2020, we will come to see the journalism crisis as an opportunity to reclaim and reinvent a public good. This shift in how we see a national — and increasingly global — tragedy will come gradually. But as the ravages of systemic market failure become increasingly undeniable — growing news deserts, widening informational divides, and vulture capitalists picking over what remains of the fourth estate — we’ll be forced to transcend commercial confines to imagine a new kind of journalism based on public ownership.

In many ways, this will be a return to sanity. News was never meant to be merely a commodity, and publishers’ fealty to the market has always caused social harms. Today, as profit-seeking drives journalism into the ground, we must decide whether to let all but a few national papers and niche news outlets perish, or whether we instead salvage good assets from bad owners and rescue from the market’s maw an indispensable public service and democratic infrastructure.

What might this look like? More newspapers will follow the path of The Salt Lake Tribune and transition to nonprofit status. More local groups will leverage public spaces like libraries and post offices to become community sites for media production. More state governments will make public investments in local news. Platform monopolies such as Google and Facebook will be forced to pay a public media tax to support local and global journalism. More public broadcast stations will combine with digital outlets to create multi-media hubs. News cooperatives and other experiments will take root across the country.

Looking to a post-Trump era, we will embrace social-democratic alternatives to hyper-capitalistic media. We can draw inspiration from past American initiatives such as municipal newspapers and independent phone cooperatives, which rose up in direct response to market failures and commercial excesses.

In 2020, we will return to fundamental debates about journalism’s normative role in a democratic society. No longer serving commercial imperatives, our news media will come to disavow clickbait, invasive and deceptive advertising, and sensationalistic, trivializing commentary. We might even actualize an adversarial press, one that ruthlessly confronts power, doggedly covers social problems like inequality and climate change, and gives voice to those who have been silenced.

Liberated from profit-driven, absentee owners and instead governed by the journalists themselves and by representative members of the public, newsrooms will look more like the diverse communities they serve. By changing news media’s core structures of ownership and control, we will finally let journalists be journalists.

As the commercial model continues to collapse, we can dare imagine what a truly publicly owned, democratically controlled media system might look like. In 2020, we’ll at last treat journalism as an essential public service — a core infrastructure — that democracy needs to survive.

Victor Pickard is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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