That’s not all. The news union also insisted on: creating “an indefinite program of no‐interest loans for the creation of news start‐ups, including nonprofits and employee‐owned co‐ops” from the Small Business Administration, “making tax‐deductible the cost of subscriptions for any news product,” creating undefined “incentives for local ownership,” and “establishing a nationwide advertising purchasing program to promote the public health, participation in the federal census and other topics of national interest.” Is that all?
The union justifies its proposal by claiming that “reliable local, regional and national journalism is an essential service.” But that is not what the NewsGuild wants Washington to fund. Instead, the plan would offer a massive subsidy for everyone in the mainstream media, reinforcing its ingrained biases. And the plan would underwrite start‐ups seemingly irrespective of merit. Unlike the rest of the economy, journalism enterprises would no longer face a market test. As in Canada, the media enterprise, which generally (though not entirely) leans left, would force its targets to pay their tormentors.
Such a system could not help but encourage the use of press coverage as a political pay‐off to the legislators most instrumental in ensuring the media’s continued funding. After all, it would not behoove any publication dining at the federal trough to criticize those who assure it remains full. Even modest shifts in coverage could undermine the fairness of elections.
Nor would the NewsGuild’s proposal do anything to promote quality. Rather, it assumes every existing publication is an “essential service” providing “accurate, reliable” information. Of course, every publication believes that about itself. And at least a few people dispute that about every publication. The bailout is incumbent protection for the media.
NG is determined to take care of number one, namely itself and its members. The union would be empowered help choose one‐quarter of company board members. Any aid recipient would be “prohibited for five years from engaging in mergers and acquisition activity or leveraged buyouts that result in job losses or pay reductions.” For a similar period of time, firms could not use “public money for executive bonuses, dividends or stock buybacks,” stock options, or golden parachutes. Executive pay could not be more than double the editor-in-chief’s earnings.
Moreover, there would be “no layoffs, no furloughs, no buyouts or pay cuts” since it is “essential that we invest in and retain journalists and other media workers.” Most important, any firm collecting a federal check “must not interfere” with (read: oppose) a union organizing campaign. The requirements here would be quite detailed: no hiring of consultants, no mandatory meetings on unionization, mandatory acceptance of signed cards rather than employee elections, compulsory arbitration over first contracts, and no abrogation of bargaining agreements for a period of time.
Finally, the NewsGuild’s proposal ostentatiously flags its political nature. Recipients would have to “remain independent from partisan influence.” That sounds fair, but who gets to decide if a news source is partisan?
Moreover, there is the usual “diversity” boilerplate, with the demand that “any employer taking public funds should be required to implement plans intended to advance diversity across their staff and report their annual diversity statistics.” It doesn’t take a genius to realize that those collected statistics likely would turn the exercise into a quota system. And who would get to decide whether plans had been implemented satisfactorily?
Thoughtful journalists have criticized such proposals to turn journalism into essentially a federally‐subsidized public utility. Freelancer Jen Gerson complained to HuffPost that “in a time where we’re shoring up our credibility and making sure people have faith that they can trust the information coming from us, taking a media bailout is absolutely fatal to those efforts.”
Even politicians sympathetic to the idea of government subsidies remain wary. “We cannot do anything that would in any way undermine the integrity and independence of the media, and I worry that if there is government assistance, in terms of money, you begin to blur those lines,” allowed U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who introduced legislation to allow joint rate‐setting for advertising. John Stanton, co‐founder of the Save Journalism Project, warned that any case approved by Congress would likely “come with a lot of weird, terrible strings.”
Waldron talks up the idea of a special fund “overseen by independent actors and accountable to local communities and journalists themselves.” However, the ideological and political biases of such parties should be obvious. Even if the system were not corrupt per se, it almost certainly would be ideologically biased. That might not bother those who end up in control and receive the funds, but those of us paying the bills could rightly complain.
I rue the collapse of traditional journalism, especially the dead‐tree publications which I once eagerly consumed. However, putting journalists on a federal dole is dangerous for liberty and democracy. At some point Congress must say no to new industry subsidies. This is that point.