Labeled the “Earmark for Insight,” a tiny part of the next government stimulus bill should be directed toward propping up the Washington bureaus of regional newspapers.
The Earmark for Insight would provide newspaper companies with resources to continue to be the watchdog of government — and stop the already-happening slide into a lapdog role. The subsidy would provide the newspaper companies with money to cover their fixed costs in Washington D.C. — rent for office space and travel expenses for overseas trips with government officials or back to the newspaper’s home.
It would be a minuscule request amid the $700 billion bailout for the finance industry, or the billions seemingly set aside for the auto industry, or the reported trillion dollar estimate of President-elect Barack Obama’s upcoming stimulus package.
I can hear jaded journalists immediately oppose this plan, saying, “This would put us in the POCKET of the government!”
Hardly. Look at the financial bailout, it didn’t have any strings attached. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson gave the money to the banks with no requirements to in turn loan to the most needy — the one’s whose homes are being foreclosed.
The chief author of the financial bailout bill, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D. Mass., said on Sunday’s 60 Minutes, “There’s a metaphor that works here: you cannot push on a string. There’s no Constitutional way to force them to do things.”
Despite the overly ominous “car czar” to oversee the Big Three auto companies, they will walk away with the cash, no strings attached. The congressmen on the committees were more concerned about asking question on how they took their corporate jets to Washington D.C. than how the auto executives will amend their outdated business models.
Like with cars, there are grave needs for thoughtful D.C. journalism, reports Thursday’s New York Times. Cox Newspapers had 30 journalists in D.C. in 2000. On April 1, they will close their doors and inadequately serve Atlanta and Austin, Texas, among 15 other papers.
The biggest loss to an educated citizenry is in-depth or investigative journalism. For instance, the San Diego Union Tribune exposed corrupt congressman Randy “Duke” Congressman in 2005. The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for its expose that Cunningham received more than $1 million in payments from defense contractors for whom he had secured favorable treatment from the Pentagon.
That watchdog journalism is now lost as the Union Tribune recently closed its Washington bureau.
Since a tenant of journalism is accountability, the subsidy would be accompanied with newspaper resources to research and development to finding a profitable business model. The temporary subsidy wouldn’t directly fund the journalists, but the fixed costs of business. Newspapers would have to account how and where the small amount of money was spent.
The Earmark for Insight is, in actuality, a pipe dream. There is little incentive for legislators to support journalism because they are the ones outed by newspapers for their corrupt ways. The New York Times outed Sen. Chuck Shummer, D. N.Y., for his excessively cozy ties to Wall Street on Sunday. Government wants to cover up scandal — and with fewer journalists watching the congressmen — that becomes easier and easier.
Frank did get one thing right in his 60 Minutes interview, “Television is apparently the enemy of nuance. But nuance is essential for a thoughtful discussion.”
Without newspapers (read: nuanced news), the country will be in ever-increasing peril.