Subsidizing the press : understanding journalists? attitudes about corporate and government influence and the public interest
U.S. newspaper companies have been slashing resources, resulting in less original reporting and raising questions about whether private-sector newspapers can adequately serve the public interest. According to social responsibility theory, if the press can't fulfill its obligation to serve society, the government could intervene to ensure that it does. Journalists, protective of their watchdog role, are widely assumed to reject the idea of government involvement. But is this assumption valid, especially at a time when corporate decision-making appears to have strained newsrooms? Semi-structured interviews with newsroom workers at Oregon's four largest daily newspapers revealed that the journalists were keenly aware of market conditions that limited their ability to serve the public interest. Despite management decisions that resulted in shrunken staff and diluted news coverage, however, the journalists believed corporate governance had little influence over their ability to serve the public interest. But when asked to imagine the government as a source of newspaper revenue, the journalists were fearful that subsidies could compromise their watchdog role. Because of newspapers' dire circumstances, however, most of the journalists were open to exploring the potential of expanded government subsidies to prop up newspapers, as long as they came with assurances that the government would not meddle in news coverage. A limited understanding of how these subsidies might work prevented many of the journalists from embracing the idea more fully, an indication that the government's role in supporting the free press has been largely absent from discussions about newspaper reform.