Posted January 28, 2010
WASHINGTON — Government financial support that has bolstered this country’s commercial news business since its colonial days is in sharp decline and is likely to fall further, according to a report released today by USC Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. Because these cutbacks are occurring at the height of the digital revolution, they will have an especially powerful impact on a weakened news industry.
Public Policy and Funding the News is a unique effort to begin examining how involved the government, at all levels, has been in subsidizing news throughout American history to foster an informed citizenry; and what this support has meant for publishers, journalists and news consumers. The report analyzes some of the financial tools that government has used to support the press over the years — from postal rate discounts and tax breaks to public notices and government advertising. The report documents cutbacks across a range of sectors and presents a framework for the consideration of policy options to place the industry on more secure financial footing.
“It is a common myth that the commercial press in the United States is independent of governmental funding support,” says University Professor and director of the Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP) Geoffrey Cowan (pictured, top left), who co-authored the report. “There has never been a time in U.S. history when government dollars were not helping to undergird the news business to ensure that healthy journalism is sustained across the country.”
“Certainly, the U.S. has never supported news-gathering the way some European and Asian countries have,” said David Westphal (top right) USC Annenberg executive-in-residence, report co-author, CCLP senior fellow and former Washington Editor for McClatchy. “The point here is that it’s time all of us, outside and inside the industry, realize that tax dollars support the American news business, and those dollars, which throughout our history have been critical in keeping the news media alive, are now shrinking quickly.”
The late 1960s marked a high-water mark of government support for the news business. The postal service was subsidizing about 75 percent of the mailing costs for newspapers and magazines, roughly $2 billion in today’s dollars. Today, however, publishers’ mailing discounts for their printed news products are down to 11 percent or $288 million.