There are inherent problems with both government-funded and privately-owned media.
A strong, independent, free press is essential for democracies to thrive.
But much of what we have today is made up of misinformation, sensationalism, and either fake neutrality or proud propaganda.
How do we fix this?
The core problem with any kind of journalism is that it costs money.
And how you get that money determines what kind of biases, distortions, and corruption can creep into your reporting.
With state-run media, for instance, the organization can become fearful of criticizing the government.
With privately-owned media, the money is generated through advertising.
That means the primary incentive is to attract attention—not to report on the most important stories, or always tell the truth.
We like to think, in theory, the best reporting will attract the most attention. But increasingly, we’re realizing that that’s simply not the case.
The most profitable news outlets aren’t the ones that do the best reporting. They’re the ones that confirm people’s preexisting beliefs. They’re the ones with the splashiest graphics, most attractive reporters, and the most effective tricks to get people to watch.
It may seem like there are a lot of news sources out there. But ultimately, Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox, Time Warner, CBS, and Viacom own a whopping 90 percent of the TV, film, radio, and publishing outlets in the United States.
Those six companies pretty much determine which events are newsworthy, how those events will be framed and interpreted, and which opinions are taken seriously or dismissed.
That’s not a very “free” press, is it?
But if there are inherent problems with both government-funded and privately-owned media…what other solutions are there?
We need to figure out how to make the news more diverse.
We need to figure out how to make it responsive to the people—not to the narrow interests of the government or some corporation.
And we shouldn’t create a system where the wealthy get to use their greater resources to shape the media into what they want it to be. It should be “one person, one vote,” not “one dollar, one vote.”
Personally, I like the idea of media scholars John Nichols and Robert McChesney, who argue that we should consider funding media with tax credits.
This would be different than tax deductions, which would give wealthy Americans more influence than ordinary Americans.
In a tax credit system, every American would get an equal amount per year to spend on newspapers, magazines, and other forms of media.
Because each citizen would get to pick where they spent their money, organizations wouldn’t be afraid of criticizing the government, even though the government would be subsidizing their work.
And at the same time, this would make the media much less dependent upon advertising to generate their revenues.
The media would become more concerned with attracting the attention of all Americans, not just the ones with disposable income that advertisers prefer.
This is just an idea. But I think it’s a step in the right direction.
Because it deals with the core problem of incentives that encourages journalists to prioritize profits, attention, and flattering coverage over the truth.
Until we deal with that core problem, our media—and our democracy—will continue to suffer.
This is the 146th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.