Who's Buying Up Small Newspapers in Rural Georgia?

People have long expressed concerns over the disappearance of local news outlets, newspapers, and broadcasters, as they have been gobbled up by national media franchises. It’s a valid worry for a number of reasons, including the fact that many local stories wind up being lost because they are not deemed to be as “important” or sensational as others. Now, New York State is poised to do something about it. The state government announced plans to dole out millions of dollars to local media outlets to help pay the salaries of journalists. That may indeed keep some of these people employed, but is it a valid use of taxpayer funds? And what does this say about the independence of journalism? (Daily Caller)

New York state is poised to hand out millions in taxpayer dollars to local media outlets to help pay for journalists’ salaries.

The state will dole out $30 million over a three-year period to local media outlets in the form of tax credits, giving publishers the ability to offset up to 50% of the first $50,000 in journalists’ salaries, according to a Tuesday release issued by New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. Heastie emphasized that the funds will go toward protecting local news outlets for “many years to come.”

“Local journalism plays an essential role in our communities,” Speaker Heastie said in the release.

The money is being broken down into two categories. Four million dollars is slated to cover the creation of new jobs in journalism. The other $26 million is to be used to offset the cost of salaries for current journalists. This probably sounds like great news for the managers of shrinking newsrooms around the state, but analysts are raising alarms about the plan. Phil Kerpen quickly pointed out the most obvious concern. Local journalists now work for the state government.

Local news outlets do much more than cover the results of your area’s high school football games and traffic accidents. They are charged with reporting on the actions and potential misdeeds of the state government and, even more importantly, local and municipal officials who might otherwise fly under the radar. How fearless will that coverage be if they are taking money from the state? It can be difficult to bite the hand that feeds you.

Another glaring problem is the reality that some bureaucrat in Albany is going to have to decide how and where the money is distributed. $30 million may sound like a lot of money, but there are 40 daily newspapers in New York and a similar number of non-daily publications. Those numbers are dwarfed by the army of local television stations that operate newsrooms. There are fifty radio stations dedicated entirely to news and many times that number which run other types of programming but include at least a small news staff. 

Who will be deciding how much money goes where? Being a blue state, will more cash be doled out to newsrooms that are more “friendly” to progressive causes and less (or none) to newspapers and broadcast stations affiliated with Fox? You can call me cynical if you like, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that’s how it works out. I’ve been covering these weasels in Albany for a long time and there isn’t much I would put past them.

News outlets are supposed to be independent businesses that have to find a way to survive like any other private corporation in a capitalist society. It’s absolutely true that remaining profitable can be a serious challenge in this field, particularly since the advent of the internet. Many outlets have gone under, and that’s a shame. But keeping them afloat through the use of taxpayer dollars doled out by the same government they are supposed to be covering and holding accountable doesn’t sound like any sort of solution at all.

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