Consumers must change to force change in conglomerates
It is difficult to pinpoint specific policies that could force media to improve the quality of their news and information dissemination. While I obviously believe that mass media conglomerates aren’t the best system for producing high quality press, I think it’s futile to sit around and try to come up with ways to break up Newscorp or Disney. In our pseudo – capitalist, market based economic system, it is impossible to avoid the giant companies that tower over the business landscapes. It’s impossible to break down an economic system that has been developing for the past 240 years. But, when one assumes that these media giants can’t be changed, one must start focusing in on how to change the average consumer, and this is plausible. News consumers have to demand better journalism from their media, and force big media to understand that good journalism is not damaging to the bottom line profits of a company. The government can play a very tangential role in encouraging a more educated consumer as well, which will lead to a reversal of the declining standard of journalism in this country. This plan could also be bolstered by the creation of some type of journalist license by individual states or a national organization and bettering newspapers knowledge of how to increase revenues.
In 2009, French president Nicholas Sarkozy introduced a so-called “media bailout” as part of his sweeping overhauls of the French budget, and some of his strategy may be building blocks for the United States if we wish to launch some type of media-consumption education plan. According to Adam Ross’ 2009 article in the Washington Post, Sarkozy’s plan included a doubling of government advertising in print and online editions, tax breaks for delivery services and a free one-year newspaper subscription for teenagers on their 18th birthdays. While Ross goes on to criticize the plan because it doesn’t force newspapers to improve on their own to extend their existence, a plan similar to this might work in the United States because our media isn’t on life support yet like France’s was. If we transform parts of Sarkozy’s plan from a focus on revenue earning to a focus on consumer education, we can increase both newspaper profits and good journalism practices in the long run. It would be a somewhat bold step by the government to spend enough money to put the plan into practice, but I can show you how it would help the education of consumers.
If most people agree that the standard of journalism is on the decline in this country, we can all understand that the consumer must actively demand a better quality press. I believe that newspapers are still the foundation of American media, and feel that they are the best starting place to initiate a shift from the entertainment-heavy news focus and back to a higher focus on civic journalism and autonomy. Sarkozy’s call for all 18 year-olds to receive a free one year subscription to a newspaper is a part of his play that would work for our purposes in the U.S. The government would set up a committee that would bring together journalism and communication professors and experts from across the country that would be in charge of determining how to spend the government subsidiaries. This group, who would come from different political and social backgrounds, would spend time reading and ranking different newspapers based on their journalistic quality. They would be in charge of determining some type of ranking system that includes both their opinion, and the opinion of outside research groups such as the Pew trusts, or the Pulitzer center. They would request national and independent newspapers and perhaps magazines as well to send in issues in order to be considered for inclusion into the project. Newspapers would want to be included, seeing that it would increase their profits and future readers if their circulation increases.
These rankings would then determine what newspapers would be provided for the teens. The plan obviously wouldn’t work if the government only provided one paper, so the committee would comprise some sort of rotating circulation plan in which these young adults could sample a variety of different writings. This would allow them to choose for themselves what they feel is good writing and reporting. The government would then also have to initiate some type of follow up system. A message board similar to this one might be the answer, with the government offering some sort of incentive to schools and students that participate (giving schools a free projector, or students who offer quality perspectives an extended subscription or a videogame). Hopefully, this will inspire a more educated generation that will force media to spend more money and time on newsgathering by supporting newspapers that do put part of their revenue stream back into the newsroom.
Two other ways that the government could encourage better journalism practices would be to establish a journalism license and hire business professionals to show failing newspapers and T.V stations that cutting costs in news gathering isn’t profitable in the long run. The license can’t be distributed by the government, as that would take away from the free press right, so the government would have to set up a separate foundation that had guaranteed funding every year to establish a set of qualifications in which journalists would have to be trained in to receive their license. The license wouldn’t be a necessity to be able to publish in the U.S, but rather a way for papers to distinguish themselves from others. The licensing process would have journalists applying for a license by sending in their work to prove that they are the type of high quality reporters that we want bringing us the news. This licensing plan would obviously take a lot more planning, but I think it would be extremely helpful in showing consumers of media where good reporting and writing is still taking place.
My final idea is based off of a 2006 study by University of Missouri business professor Murali Muntrala that studied over 4,000 different newspapers and linked cuts in newsrooms to greater losses in total profit as compared to newspapers who kept up newsroom funding. The government needs to make newspapers realize that high quality, investigative and civic journalism is still profitable and can’t be cut. This could be accomplished by hiring various business experts and running courses on why investing more capital into an entity will eventually increase profits.
I’m aware the plan I suggested is a tad aggressive and more than slightly ambitious, but I was merely laying out a broad framework for how media might be drastically improved. The diminishing quality of newspaper journalism is what I believe to be the most pressing factor in media today, and that could be fixed my suggested course of action involving the free newspaper plan, a government licensing system and an aggressive newspaper education plan. For changes to be made, the consumer needs to change and that would happen with this plan.