Tuesday, May 16, 2023

CNN, Trump and the Media Mainstreaming of Demagogues

The pageantry of lies that passed for a town hall last week was yet another low point in CNN’s coverage of Donald Trump.
   To absolutely no one’s surprise, the former president used the media attention to paint an alternative view of recent U.S. history — one in which he features not as the twice-impeached, criminally indicted sexual abuser who lost the last presidential election, but as a decisive and winning strongman, the only person with the power and charisma to make America great again. It’s a script that appealed to his many MAGA supporters in the New Hampshire auditorium last week; they cheered on their man as he mocked the victim of his sexual battery and called CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins “nasty” for her often futile efforts to fact check Trump in real time. (Prior to the live town hall, a floor manager reportedly told audience members that they could cheer but not boo during the show.) And the Trump loyalists inside the town hall weren’t the only ones cheering on cue. The day after the program aired, CNN CEO Chris Licht praised the event, telling staff that “America was served very well by what we did.” Really? That trainwreck was a public service? Licht’s self-flattery echoed comments other media execs have made when defending their network’s decision to amplify all things Trump. In 2016, then-CBS CEO Les Moonves offered a more accurate view: Devoting so much airtime to then-candidate Trump “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” he said, referring to the bumper crop of political ad dollars brought in during the contentious 2016 election. Trump’s media makeover At least Moonves was being honest. The media’s Trump binge harmed the nation but helped their bottom lines. Licht, on the other hand, is trying to convince everyone that democracy itself benefits when the media give Trump a megaphone. Licht likely learned that from his predecessor at CNN. Jeff Zucker has arguably done more than any single person to burnish the 21st-century caricature of Donald Trump. While an executive at NBC, he greenlit The Apprentice, which remade Trump from a bankruptcy-spawning loser into a boardroom genius with impeccable business savvy.   When Trump entered the political arena in 2015, he did so with an Apprentice tailwind. Zucker, who by then had transitioned to the top job at CNN, trained the network’s cameras on his celebrity candidate while denying equal time to Trump’s Republican opponents.  Early in the 2016 campaign, The New York Times estimated that the major networks had already given Trump the equivalent of $2 billion in free advertising — with much, much more to come by election day. The media chose Trump well before most Republican voters had a chance to vote for any of the other GOP candidates in the race. Mainstreaming fascism All of this is to say that last week’s town-hall debacle is just more evidence of the dangers inherent in a commercial media system that mainstreams lying demagogues for profit.   Absolute disregard for the facts and mythologizing of strongmen are pre-conditions for fascism, say historians Fred Turner and Ruth Ben-Ghiat.  Turner, who teaches at Stanford, has written about the parallels between Donald Trump’s leadership style and that of Benito Mussolini’s early rule in 1920s Italy. The difference, according to Turner, is that we now live in a virtual world where people can surround themselves with a “fake news” media sphere all their own.  “The real problem is actually more of a structural problem,” he told an interviewer in 2016. “Media firms in lots of different subsets need to make money on advertising. When you are dependent on advertising, controversy is good,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not. What matters is that it gets a lot of attention.” Like Mussolini, Trump is a master at manipulating media attention to amplify his propaganda, says Ben-Ghiat, a NYU professor who has studied authoritarian patterns worldwide. Many in the U.S. media have been “slow to catch on to what Trump [is] doing,” she said Or perhaps news outlets don’t care. As long as Trump’s hijacking of media attention makes them richer, why should media execs worry about the consequences?    CNN has faced a storm of criticism for its decision to give Trump a primetime slot, and deservedly so. But the network’s choices are symptoms of a larger problem. The commercial U.S. media system needs to undergo deep reckoning for its role in accommodating the rise of camera-friendly authoritarians. Without this serious assessment of the failings of top news execs like Zucker, Moonves and Licht, the media will never quit its Trump habit.   As an antidote we also need to support a noncommercial public-interest media system that promotes democracy and civic information. This includes funding public structures to support the production of local and diverse news and information, and the sort of investigative reporting that holds abusive leaders accountable.  While this approach doesn’t pretend to address every threat facing democracies today, it recognizes that a more robust noncommercial media can serve as a bulwark against the democracy-destabilizing forces of 21st-century demagogues. And it can do so in ways that prominent commercial outlets like CNN have failed to.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

How Lawmakers and Regulators Are Helping Sinclair Destroy Local News

Sometimes lawmakers write legislation that would do the opposite of its stated goal. Nowhere is this more evident than in two recent bills — one introduced at the state level and another in the U.S. Congress — that are supposedly designed to “save local news.”  Both the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA) and the federal Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) would allow news publishers — including broadcast companies — to extract payments from large social-media enterprises like Alphabet and Meta in exchange for linking to their content. This would apply to any content regardless of its accuracy or news value. One of the bigger beneficiaries of California’s CJPA and the U.S. Senate’s JCPA is a conglomerate that seems determined to get rid of local news and replace it with right-wing spin produced at a “National Desk” far removed from the communities this broadcast company is legally obligated to serve. That conglomerate, Sinclair Broadcast Group, recently announced plans to eliminate entire local newsrooms at local-television stations in five broadcast areas. Sinclair is also drastically cutting newsroom staff at an additional five local stations, pushing all of these stations to fill the resulting news hole with National Desk boilerplate. That means zero local coverage — and lots of the sort of cookie-cutter conservatism that Sinclair has pumped out via the public airwaves for decades. Saving local news by throttling it Sinclair doesn’t care about the benefits that local-news coverage brings to communities. The company owns and operates several stations that broadcast to regions of California, including KAEF in Eureka, KBAK in Bakersfield, KMPH in Fresno, KRCR in Redding and KRXI around Lake Tahoe. Any of these newsrooms could be next on its chopping block. But lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington are ignoring Sinclair’s dismal track record and moving forward with legislation that would reward Sinclair as it undermines local news. On Tuesday, the CJPA passed through California Assembly’s Judiciary Committee just a few days after the Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection advanced it. And in Washington, Sen. Amy Klobuchar has reintroduced the JCPA, which failed to pass in the previous Congress after facing headwinds from a coalition of local-news advocates and media-democracy groups.  Both bills would create a convoluted mechanism for corporate handouts to highly profitable and consolidated media outlets — and both bills would allow these chains to continue to neglect the information needs of the communities they’re supposed to serve. That these bills have any momentum is largely due to the powerful Big Media lobby pushing them. This includes lobbyists working on behalf of Sinclair as well as Gannett Co. and predatory hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which have also cut local newsrooms to the bone even as they’ve continued to buy back stocks, go deeper into debt to acquire more local outlets, and use other financial gimmicks to enrich their owners, executives and shareholders.  These companies aren’t journalism’s saviors. In many places they’ve created news deserts after shuttering local operations. Lawmakers shouldn’t reward them for such slash-and-burn tactics. Instead, policymakers should pass bills that support local-accountability journalism by putting reporters back on local beats and expanding coverage in communities that companies like Sinclair have neglected. The FCC must step up, too The Federal Communications Commission has done next to nothing to discipline these companies for their misuse of the public airwaves. 
An FCC mandate is to “protect and advance diversity, competition and localism in the media marketplace.” The agency has instead allowed Sinclair to consolidate control over nearly 200 local stations. And in 2018, the conglomerate misled the FCC about the nature of its control over the many stations it already owned in a failed attempt to gobble up even more. In exchange for exclusive access to so much of our public airwaves, Sinclair thumbs its nose at public-interest obligations, delivering the bare minimum required by the FCC. It created sham businesses and shell companies to evade FCC station-ownership limits. It forces these local-TV stations to air “must-run segments” filled with propaganda seemingly pulled straight from a MAGA rally. And it routinely cuts back on local-news staffing while its top executives get rich off the bumper crop of political campaign ads that come around every two years. Whether it’s via state or federal legislation, or a federal agency that has too often bucked its obligation to serve the public interest, regulators seem intent on saving local news by ignoring — or even perpetuating — the problems that led to its collapse in the first place.  Once we recognize the miscues and market failures driving the journalism crisis, it becomes hard to justify simply handing money over to these same incumbents. This recognition requires we shift our focus away from bills like the CJPA and JCPA toward public policy that creates funding for local-accountability journalism, including noncommercial initiatives.  The FCC needs to take a long-overdue look at its legacy of failure. Promoting competition, localism and diversity means giving more locally owned outlets access to the public airwaves — outlets that will serve their communities in ways Sinclair has not.  In a strategic sleight of hand, the large news-media companies want us to conflate the public importance of local journalism with their own bottom lines. When companies like Sinclair lobby for these bad bills, they want us to forget their actual record of mistreating their own reporters. They want to pretend they’re not getting rich by maintaining this broken system that’s misusing our airwaves and poisoning our democracy. The problem is that too many of our elected representatives and appointed media regulators are all too willing to give Sinclair a pass, and have opted to “save local news” by becoming accessories to its demise.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Is $787.5 Million Enough to Make the Murdochs Accountable?

It’s been a momentous week in media — one that executives and hosts at Fox News hope you’ll soon forget.

But the aftertaste from its
 $787.5-million decision to settle the Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation case lingers. While the Murdochs want to wash away months of monumentally damaging headlines — exposing their efforts to deceive the American public and help overthrow a democratically elected government — there are ways to make sure they and their media company are held accountable.

Until we know the full extent of the company’s deception and abuse and implement policies that prevent one media conglomerate from amassing this much power, Fox will continue to lie for profit in ways that undermine our democracy, poison public discourse and divide our communities.

That Fox News settled for a gargantuan $787.5 million points to how strong Dominion’s case was — and also reveals the network’s desire to prevent further damning facts from coming out during a trial. Yet money alone won’t bring accountability, and it doesn’t correct the ongoing harms Fox News causes across society. For Fox chief Rupert Murdoch, $787.5 million is simply the cost of doing business for a media company that profits from deceiving people and spreading hate.

Thousands of pages of court documents
 exposed what many already suspected about Fox’s reckless reporting practices and political and corporate biases. But it’s important to remember that the settlement simply holds Fox News accountable for the damages it caused to Dominion’s reputation and bottom line. This one defamation lawsuit was never going to hold Fox accountable for the incalculable harm it’s inflicted on people of color, LGBTQIA+ communities and other groups that far-right hosts like Tucker Carlson routinely target. Nor does the settlement repair the damages Fox has caused by normalizing policies that take away women’s bodily autonomy — or by propping up narratives that inspire gun violence.

And Fox doesn’t plan to change a thing as a result of this costly lawsuit. The evening after the settlement was announced, the network’s primetime lineup was as hateful and misleading as always. That night’s programming included a lead segment from Carlson on supposed “mob rule” in Democratic-led cities. “This is why we used to shoot looters,” he said. Sean Hannity’s program led with a segment where he asked white-supremacist and Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller to “define a woman” as another guest referred to immigrants as “sex traffickers.” On Laura Ingraham’s show, the host led with a segment referencing Hunter Biden’s laptop and leveling unsubstantiated claims of corruption against the Biden family.

At no point during any of these programs did any of these proven liars cover the settlement, let alone apologize for repeatedly and knowingly deceiving their viewers about supposed voter fraud during the 2020 elections.

We can’t return to business as usual
Before Fox writes off its Dominion losses, we need a national reckoning on the harms the Murdoch empire has done and continues to do. We must examine the history of U.S. policymaking and lax enforcement that allowed the Murdochs to amass so much media power. Why is a company that routinely misinforms the public and endangers democracy allowed to use our public airwaves or other public property and communications infrastructure?

Then we must work together to put in place the types of policies that will foster a media system that supports public-interest accountability journalism over the spectacle of deception and bigotry that passes for news at Fox.

We need more of the sorts of policies that Fox, with its lawyers and lobbying dollars, has fought so hard against. This includes much more public investment in civic media — especially in communities that have suffered the most from the Murdochs’ brand of media bigotry. We need real diversity in media ownership, and we need to give consumers the ability to opt out of paying for Fox as part of their cable and streaming bundles. We need federal agencies to stop rubber-stamping massive media mergers — and actually weigh the impact of these deals on workers and consumers. And to get there we need a Congress that will stand up to Big Media lobbyists on behalf of the people they actually represent.

No single company has done more combined harm to our planet (by pushing climate denialism), our society (by spreading racism and hate), and our democracy (by promoting authoritarians and attacking fair elections) than Fox. Fox is hoping with this settlement that we’ll all just move on, and the outrage will fade away.

But its continued airing of hate and lies makes it hard to forget Fox’s destructive legacy, or excuse the lawmakers who helped the Murdochs such a toxic media empire.

The fight to create a healthier media system has had some defeats and victories. While we can chalk up Fox’s Dominion settlement in the win column, it’s only one small step toward building a media system that better protects democracy and holds its enemies fully accountable.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Elon Musk: The World’s Worst Businessman

Even billionaires get things wrong. But none more so than Elon Musk, who, a year after announcing his bid to buy Twitter, has squandered every opportunity he’s had to make the social-media company a success. Musk’s mistakes have been many. He’s spent most of the past year behaving like a preschooler on a finger-load of frosting, and his childishness has affected the platform’s bottom line and alienated potential business allies. After announcing plans to buy out Twitter investors at an overinflated $54.20 a share, he quickly reversed course with an erratic campaign to scuttle his own deal.  But shareholders forced Musk to honor his initial offer and he took up residence in the company’s San Francisco headquarters, announcing immediate and drastic plans to cut staff rolls by 75 percent. In the cold calculus of profit and loss that move might have made sense to some. Musk took on $13 billion in debt to purchase Twitter. Servicing that will require nearly a billion dollars in annual payments to the banks — money Twitter is struggling to generate.  But Musk’s mistakes didn't end with the deal and the need to pay off the debt it generated. Early mass layoffs included many of those charged with keeping the social network up and running; in the months since, Twitter has suffered an increasing number of technological malfunctions A banner year of bad decisions He then moved to introduce a pay-for-verification plan that would cost subscribers $8 per month. This fell apart almost immediately, after the heads of Twitter’s security, privacy and compliance teams quit. Twitter’s lawyers had warned that the mass verification push could jeopardize user privacy and expose the company to billions in government fines for violating a Federal Trade Commission consent decree. (While the blue-check verification scheme is back on track, scheduled to relaunch on April 20 — get it? — it’s not likely to generate anything close to the revenue Twitter needs to survive.) By the end of the year, Musk reneged on his pledge to make Twitter “a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner.” He began binging on right-wing memes, giving prominent space on the network to Twitter “investigations” — a series he dubbed the #TwitterFiles — that sought to prove MAGA conspiracy theories about alleged censorship of conservative voices, and supposed coverups of anti-vaccine and Hunter Biden-related news.  Never mind that the writers Musk cherry-picked to reveal the files had their own reactionary agendas, or that the Musk hype surrounding the files has turned Twitter into an even more divisive political echo-chamber. The highly partisan #TwitterFiles were a Musk miscalculation that alienated half of the users Musk once claimed he wanted to welcome into “healthy” discussions with their ideological others.          The worst decision of all The list of Musk mistakes goes on: There’s his reckless suspension of journalists whose reporting he doesn’t like; his demand that the platform’s algorithms be manipulated to prioritize his posts over all others; his shutdown of independent researchers’ ability to access Twitter data; his censoring of critics of India’s conservative government; and his refusal to abide by a poll where a majority of users said he should step down as head of the platform It’s been a banner year of bad moves — so bad that the estimated value of Twitter has plummeted by tens of billions of dollars, making it arguably the most costly deal in the entire history of media acquisitions. But Musk’s most damaging decision was one he made early on.  Shortly after taking the helm at Twitter headquarters, Musk called a meeting of civil-rights leaders to discuss Twitter’s commitment to community standards, election integrity and content moderation. Free Press Co-CEO Jessica J. Gonz├ílez joined Musk on a Zoom call alongside representatives from the ADL, the Asian American Foundation, Color Of Change and the NAACP.  Following the meeting, Musk tweeted that the platform would “continue to combat hate and harassment and enforce its election integrity policies.”  “Twitter will not allow anyone who was de-platformed for violating Twitter rules back on [the] platform until we have a clear process for doing so, which will take at least a few more weeks,” he added. “Twitter’s content moderation council will include representatives with widely divergent views, which will certainly include the civil rights community and groups who face hate-fueled violence.”  But no sooner had he made this pledge than Musk started to decimate the trust and safety and human rights teams that were charged with combating the spread of hate. Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that the number of tweets containing one of several different racial slurs soared in the week after Musk bought Twitter. Research by CASM Technology and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue has found a major and sustained uptick in antisemitic posts on Twitter since Musk’s takeover.  After his meeting with the civil-rights leaders, Musk announced a “general amnesty” for banned accounts on Twitter. He reinstated thousands of accounts belonging to prominent neo-Nazis, white nationalists, misogynists, anti-immigrant and transphobic figures. The BBC analyzed more than 1,000 previously banned accounts that Musk had restored, and found that over a third of them had since spread abuse or misinformation on the platform. Musk then eliminated COVID-related content moderation and — to no one’s surprise — the volume of lies about the virus and vaccines jumped alarmingly, according to analysis by the Queensland University of Technology Content moderation is key The deluge of online hate and lies sent Twitter’s biggest revenue line into a tailspin: Advertisers, fearing damage to their brands, have left Twitter in droves.  After Musk ditched his promises to civil-rights leaders, Free Press, Accountable Tech and Media Matters for America launched the #StopToxicTwitter campaign, which has called on companies to stop advertising on the platform unless and until Musk enforces common-sense guardrails that will protect the health and safety of users. More than 600 of Twitter’s top-1,000 advertisers have abandoned the platform, fearing that their brands wouldn’t be safe under Musk’s unsteady leadership. Their departure resulted in a 70-percent drop in Twitter’s December revenue over the previous year, according to Standard Media Index. Musk chose to ignore a fundamental truth for social-media ventures: Effective content moderation is essential to growing healthy online communities and protecting brand safety. As Musk’s Twitter barrels toward insolvency, he has only himself to blame for lacking this basic business sense about social networks. “It’s kind of a rite of passage for any new social media network,” writes Mike Masnick about the content-moderation learning curve. “They show up, insist that they’re the ‘platform for free speech’ without quite understanding what that actually means, and then they quickly discover a whole bunch of fairly fundamental ideas, institute a bunch of rapid (often sloppy) changes … and in the end, they basically all end up in the same general vicinity.” Musk has yet to arrive in this vicinity and likely never will. The proof for Twitter is in its bottom line. Before Musk took charge, advertising sales made up 90 percent of Twitter’s revenues. Brands get nervous when they see their ads run adjacent to some of the most toxic posts. The companies that have left Twitter have put their money where their values are. And they aren’t likely to return until Twitter can make assurances that their ad buys aren’t helping underwrite the amplification of hate and lies.  We hoped Musk would have learned this lesson at the beginning: Twitter’s business will live or die on the decisions he makes or doesn’t make about content moderation. But one year after Musk first announced his bid to take over Twitter — all of his decisions have been wrong.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Why Advertisers Aren’t to Blame for Mass Layoffs at NPR

More than 50 years on, it’s easy to wonder what went wrong with the
 Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, the legislation that created public media as we’ve come to know it in the United States. Despite the popular understanding that a healthy democracy requires a free press, the U.S. Congress remains reluctant to offer public subsidies for any journalism that doesn’t operate under the dictates of the commercial marketplace.

Nowhere is this more evident than in news from earlier this week that
 NPR plans to cut 10 percent of its staff to make up a budget shortfall of $30 million. The reason NPR’s chief executive gives for the layoffs is not the routine failure of Congress to fund public journalism at the level it needs, but a “sharp decline in our revenues from corporate sponsors.”

Say what?

“Despite being the wealthiest nation on the planet, the United States impoverishes its public media infrastructures,”
 writes Professor Victor Pickard, co-director of the Media, Inequality and Change Center at the University of Pennsylvania (and Free Press’ board chair). This has left nominally public-media outlets to fend for themselves in the marketplace. Outlets like NPR and PBS — as well as the many local stations affiliated with them — receive the “bulk of their funding in the form of private capital from individual contributors, foundations, and corporations,” he adds.

The net effect of this private-sector dependency is a public-media system that is by definition
 not noncommercial. And that affects not just the future of journalism in the United States but our democracy as well.

The Public Broadcasting Act is very clear on the matter: It amends a section of the 1934 Communications Act by inserting the word “noncommercial” to describe the type of radio and television outlets that would receive public funding from the newly created Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

It’s an insertion that underscores the Act’s goals: to set up a free and functional noncommercial media sector that could counterbalance the market-driven media that dominated the public sphere then as it dominates it now.

The poor antidote

The CPB was supposed to fund this antidote to profit-driven news and information. In the words of President Johnson, who signed the Public Broadcasting Act, this was about offering public support for media that serve “great and not the trivial purposes.”

But such greatness is hard to achieve with Congress’ paltry annual offering to the CPB:
 At $465 million in FY 2022, the public allocation boils down to a little more than $1.40 per person in the United States. By comparison, the United Kingdom spends more than $81 per person and France more than $75. Head further north and the numbers head north as well: Denmark’s per-person spending is more than $93, Finland’s more than $100 and Norway’s more than $110. And it isn’t just a European trend: Japan (+$53/capita) and South Korea (+$14) show their appreciation for publicly funded media at levels that put the U.S. outlay to shame.

This bleak math is all too familiar to those who follow public-media policy in the United States. Lawmakers here continue to believe that publicly funded media should remain subordinate to its corporate counterpart — and that the work of journalism is best suited to the private sector.

That doesn’t make sense. Commercial journalism
 has been in crisis for decades now, as popular news-consumption habits have changed and advertisers have had to find new ways to reach these consumers — including ways that don’t help fund the sorts of journalism that democracies need to stay healthy. Between 2008 and 2020, more than 1,000 U.S. newspapers ceased printing, and the number of newspaper newsroom employees shrank by more than half.

As the commercial model for news production falters, the last thing we should be doing is funding public-interest journalism at levels that force noncommercial outlets like NPR to mimic the for-profit news business. “Allowing our public media to become so dependent on advertising revenue (and other sources of private capital and ‘enhanced underwriting’) was always bad social policy,”
 Pickard wrote in response to my online comments about NPR’s current dilemma.

A 2021 study co-authored by Pickard and Professor Timothy Neff of the University of Leicester finds that more robust funding for public media strengthens a given country’s democracy — with increased public knowledge about civic affairs, more diverse media coverage and lower levels of extremist views.

Conversely, the loss of quality local journalism and investigative reporting has far-reaching societal harms. Josh Stearns of the Democracy Fund (and a former Free Press staff member) has cataloged the growing body of evidence showing that declines in local news and information lead to drops in civic engagement. “The faltering of newspapers, the consolidation of TV and radio, and the rising power of social media platforms are not just commercial issues driven by the market,”
 Stearns writes. “They are democratic issues with profound implications for our communities.”

Innovations in noncommercial media are poised to help fill the massive local news-and-information gap that the collapse of market-driven news models has created. But these innovative outlets require help via local, state and federal policies.

Global policies, local examples
As a start, Free Press Action has called for a quadrupling of public funds for noncommercial news and information. This kind of congressional commitment would recognize that depending on the private-sector and emulating commercial models isn’t a viable approach for the longevity of local news and information. To get there at the federal level, Free Press Action has proposed a new tax on digital advertising to fund the kinds of innovative news production that are now needed. A tax of 2 percent would generate more than $2 billion annually, enough to support new noncommercial-media models, and lessen any dependence on corporate underwriters for revenue.

Dramatically increasing public investment in locally engaged reporting would help support the wide array of new nonprofit outlets that are focused on meeting the information needs of communities that commercial media too often ignore. Many of these new models are profiled in
 The Roadmap for Local News, an actionable plan to ensure that every U.S. community has access to necessary public-interest news and information.

Co-authored by Elizabeth Green of Chalkbeat, Darryl Holliday of City Bureau and Mike Rispoli of Free Press,
 The Roadmap expands journalism’s forms into new and previously underserved communities while sharpening the definition of what it is for. It calls on lawmakers to cultivate and pass public policies that support the expansion of civic information while maintaining editorial independence.

In New Jersey, Free Press Action helped conceive and create the
 New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, an independent nonprofit funded by a state-budget appropriation. The consortium, whose board includes representatives from public colleges and universities across the state, supports inventive local-news projects like the Newark News & Story Collaborative and the Bloomfield Information Project, which train local residents to report the news from their own perspectives.

In California, Free Press Action supported state legislation that
 dedicated $25 million to fund local reporting in underserved and underrepresented communities statewide. The money will be distributed through a fellowship program housed at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. (Free Press’ Rispoli will serve on the program’s advisory board).

More than 50 years after the Public Broadcasting Act, Free Press is also looking 50 years into the future. Through the work of the
 Media 2070 project, Free Press envisions ways the media can serve as levers for racial justice. This includes engaging policymakers in the repair and reconciliation needed to redress centuries of harm news outlets have inflicted on Black communities.

As NPR struggles to find the revenue to keep its reporters on their beats, it shouldn’t see the problem as a failure to raise advertising revenue from corporate underwriters. It’s a failure to advocate for policies that would increase the public funding it and other noncommercial media outlets need to thrive.

If we’re serious about the future of journalism and civic information in the United States, we need to look locally for innovations in not-for-profit news, and abroad for examples of more robust ways to fund it.