Tune in via Zoom at https://zoom.us/j/92099403742 or YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClwdicVMqcUGln8HKBacm1A. (If you subscribe to the latter before the event, you will get updates and reminders.)
This discussion is being co-sponsored by the Climate Council of Greater Kansas City, Our Revolution Kansas City, Missouri, PeaceWorks Kansas City, and Friends of Community Media. It will also be available via Zoom videoconferencing and YouTube Live; instructions for watching via Zoom and YouTube Live will be posted here when they become available. You can contribute to the draft agenda in the complementary article on Wikiversity.
Free Press was founded in 2003 to advocate for net neutrality and other measures to improve the quality and quantity of journalism available in the US. In addition to (1) net neutrality, they work to (2) achieve affordable internet access for all, (3) uplift the voices of people of color in the media, (4) challenge media gatekeepers to serve the public interest and end unwarranted surveillance, (5) defend press freedom, and (6) reimagine local journalism.
This discussion begins with an overview of what Aaron thinks are the greatest threats to democracy today and what FreePress.net is asking its supporters to do.
The discussion also considers how action on the FreePress agenda might impact the quality of public discourse on climate change, and US foreign and military policy, including nuclear weapons.
Robert McChesney and John Nichols, co-founders of FreePress.net, have advocated citizen-directed subsidies for journalism on the order of $100 per person per year. This is roughly 0.2 percent of US national income, Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That’s essentially the same percentage of GDP that was provided for newspapers under the US Postal Service Act of 1792. Under that act, newspapers were delivered up to 100 miles for a penny when first class postage was between 6 and 25 cents. A 2019 report on “Protecting Journalism in the Age of Digital Platforms” claimed that only “$50 per US adult is likely to be sufficient.”
If that’s true, that’s good news, in that funding on that order could be made available by local governments agreeing to match what they spend on advertising, media and public relations with citizen-directed subsidies for journalism. Local governments in the US are roughly 10 percent of GDP. Under Seattle’s “Democracy Voucher” program, each registered voter has gotten four $25 vouchers which they could give to eligible candidates running for municipal office. If Seattle can afford $100 per registered voter, many other governmental entities can afford something closer to $50 for each adult in their jurisdiction.
On the other hand, over much of the past century, advertising averaged roughly 2 percent of GDP. GDP per person in the US today is around $63,000, and 2 percent of that is $1,260. That raises the question of whether $50 would be enough. It would certainly be vastly better than what we have now, but a higher amount could be much better for the public.
However, the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium (NJCIC) is starting with a much more modest budget of $500,000, which is a little less than 6 cents per person in New Jersey, a state with a population of just under 9 million. The NJCIC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that funds initiatives to benefit the State’s civic life information needs. They are making grants to local civic initiatives collaborating with university professors under the executive management of leaders of a consortium of five of the leading universities in New Jersey.
Might it be smart to try to create something similar in the greater Kansas City area, perhaps involving a few of the leading universities between Lawrence, KS, and Columbia, MO? FreePress.net has been working with similar groups in other areas under their “News Voices” program.
The magnitude of the problem: Since 2004, newspapers in the US have lost 70% of their advertising revenue. They’ve cut the number of journalists they employ in half. A quarter of the newspapers have closed, and many of those that remain publish less content and less frequently, according to Penny Abernathy, News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers.
FreePress.net supports an honest conversation about content moderation and intermediary liability embedded in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which provides immunity for websites from defamation suits for content they do not originate. Republicans have long insisted that tech companies have an anti-conservative bias. This is the unsubstantiated and false claim that social-media companies actively target conservative news and content for takedowns, bans or unwarranted fact checking.
Dean Baker recommends modifying Section 230 to make internet companies liable for defamation in content for which they receive advertising revenue. FreePress.net says this won’t solve the problem and instead asks for something like a 2 percent tax on ad revenue over a certain amount and using that money to fund journalism.