Federal Government Proposes Greater Role In Local News

The federal government is looking to get more involved in your local news outlets, according to their latest proposal.

In a report released last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) proposed issuing public policy to help local journalism and combat misinformation. The GAO reported that local news’ lack of economic viability was the problem causing over 2,000 local newspapers to close since the early 2000s.

“[T]he market may not produce public interest content sufficient for a well-informed society,” stated the GAO. “Experts conveyed that the main goal of journalism is to have a well-informed society, and policies that aim to support this goal need to be innovation-friendly, forward-looking, and inclusive.”

The GAO proposed tax incentives or credits, direct government funding, government advertising, federal grants or loans, and even government intervention with respect to dominant internet platforms to bolster local nonprofit news. Their report also proposed that the government should establish policies to shield certain “public interest journalism” from market failure.

“According to literature and participants, direct government funding and tax incentives supporting nonprofit news organizations can be useful in addressing market failure if there are sufficient safeguards to ensure independence,” stated the report.

The GAO admitted that no universal definition of “public interest journalism” exists. However, they stated that they define “public interest journalism” as that which covers issues of “public significance to engage citizens and inform democratic decision-making,” which includes investigations on “civically important topics.”

The GAO added that “public interest journalism” serves a “public good” for all of society and “generates positive externalities.” The GAO defined that latter term as the ability to create benefits to society in a way that outweighs what local news media outlets or consumers “internalize.” As examples of this, the agency cited reports that mitigate COVID spread.

The GAO indicated that consumer desire for the government’s standard of “public interest journalism” may not exist because consumers don’t realize the extent of its benefits.

“[W]hen consumers do not perceive or internalize the benefit of this information to them, or when they expect to receive it for free, they are not willing to pay for this type of journalism,” stated the GAO.

The agency further warned that the internet’s decentralization of news production and distribution, mainly through social media, pose a risk to public interest journalism.

The GAO noted that local news outlets making the jump from private companies to nonprofits creates an opportunity for involvement in low-income communities’ news access.

“According to stakeholders, the nonprofit model, financed by a combination of federal funding and philanthropy, could be a viable strategy for targeting low-income communities that find paid access to news restrictive,” stated the GAO.

The GAO report was based on a year-long performance audit completed from September 2021 to last September.

The GAO issued the report to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), chaired by Jessica Rosenworcel — a Democrat who has served in the FCC since 2012, when she was appointed by former President Barack Obama.

Though Rosenworcel’s term was set to expire in 2017 after the Senate failed to reconfirm her, former President Donald Trump nominated her for a second term. Rosenworcel was named acting chair in January 2021, then permanently appointed that October.

Rosenworcel was a vocal critic of Trump’s speech and attitude toward media — specifically, his rhetoric on “fake news.” 

I believe in the First Amendment.

I believe in journalism.

I believe pronouncements like this cross lines.

I hope and pray that my @FCC colleagues agree. https://t.co/K3hZ299KCj

— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) June 13, 2018

It appears that Rosenworcel’s interest for the welfare and structure of local media began at the top of the COVID outbreak in March 2020.

“This crisis is going to change local journalism,” stated Rosenworcel.

We need local news to help us make decisions about our lives, our communities and our country. But this crisis is going to change local journalism.https://t.co/UpZpX6hiyX

— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) March 24, 2020

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