Arguing against government funds for journalism
This is my opinion and mine alone.
Why? Because I used to work for a media company that was actively taking part in trying to convince at least two levels of government to financially intercede in journalism in some way.
I work for a new company now, and they haven’t said much about their stance on government funding — so please don’t imagine that I speak for them. Because I don’t.
When it comes to the question of whether federal funding — tax dollars — should be used to backstop Canadian media, you’d have to count me among those saying a definite no.
Do I think good independent journalism is necessary in a democracy like Canada’s?
Absolutely, I do — but I also think affordable child care is a necessity and full dental care is long overdue as well, and that doesn’t mean anyone’s been able to find money for them either.
And the truth is, I’m more than a little ashamed of our industry.
Because the very people in the industry who are currently poor mouthing themselves in front of parliamentarians have had no qualms in the past about taking windfall profits — when there was extra cash, they didn’t start putting aside funds for improving or strengthening journalism. They just took the money. Put it this way; while media companies have cried about the need for good journalism, they have quite happily sacrificed good journalists — especially good, young, keen journalists — to maintain executive salaries and offer up returns to shareholders and lenders. If the bosses of the mainstream media really had such altruistic goals, perhaps they would have invested more of their at-the-time wheelbarrows of cash into research and development at the start of the Internet explosion.
When times got tighter, the solution newspaper owners tried was cutting costs and giving buyers less. Ask any businessperson about cutting your way to profits.
“The model is clearly broken: putting government money into the existing system either means a permanent crutch, or a slow slide into obscurity.”
The model is clearly broken: putting government money into the existing system either means a permanent crutch, or a slow slide into obscurity.
Plenty of industries change — but if a product has value and you can find a way to get it to market, it will have customers.
Our problem isn’t the customers — we have more than ever.
Our problem is more nuanced: it’s getting those customers to believe that we’re a business, not a charity, and that they may actually have to pay for what they consume. In the past — particularly in print, advertisers paid a premium that kept the costs down for customers.
That hasn’t worked as well online.
If the model is broken, a new one should appear. Stagecoaches gave way to trains, after all.
You can argue that there should be some sort of transition funding to move the industry into a new model: I’d still grit my teeth over that, because it’s like letting your roof rot off while you’re off spending your money on foreign vacations, and then asking for government-paid shingles.
The only real tragedy is if nothing appears — because that fundamentally means that people no longer care about their community, their government, and their role in the process.
But there are issues with the government paying for media as if it were thrice-weekly servings of broccoli — “because it’s good for you.”
Government funding for traditional media would really only solve one of our problems: finding someone to pay for the work that many readers are already consuming for free.
What you also have to be concerned about is the extent to which a newspaper — or any journalism outlet — is sponsored by government. There is an old saying that “he who pays the piper, picks the tune.”
The only thing worse than having no understanding of what your government is doing? Well, perhaps it’s sitting and listening to the government choir.