Wick Communications

Here’s a taxing idea

In journalism on 5 Oct 2012 at 7:36 am

Should we ask government for a handout?

Not for the first time, someone is floating the idea of a tax to support newspapers. This time, it comes from a columnist at The Guardian in the United Kingdom (via the Nieman Lab.) David Leigh’s argument goes like this:

“When the day comes that the newspapers are forced to stop printing altogether, it will be a disaster for democracy. The lean pickings from web advertising on a free newspaper site will only pay for a fraction of the high-quality investigative journalism that commercial newspapers generate. … A small levy on UK broadband providers – no more than £2 a month on each subscriber’s bill – could be distributed to news providers in proportion to their UK online readership. This would solve the financial problems of quality newspapers, whose readers are not disappearing, but simply migrating online.

There are almost 20 million UK households that are paying upwards of £15 a month for a good broadband connection, plus another 5 million mobile Internet subscriptions. People willingly pay this money to a handful of telecommunications companies, but pay nothing for the news content they receive as a result, whose continued survival is generally agreed to be a fundamental plank of democracy. …”

If we were limited to considering the raw logic of his argument, I would say that Leigh makes a good case. The provider of broadband has a vested interest in seeing that the content provided over its lines is robust. The democracy also has an interest in a vigorous press, though taxpayers may not see it that way. …

The problem, for me, is that if the government can giveth it can also taketh away. Once we are dependent upon public money, we will think twice about coverage of government and even coverage of things that may be unpopular among the electorate.

I have made similar arguments when it comes to college newspapers. I’m a big believer that they should live on their own dime, selling advertising rather than taking student fees. I wrote a letter to that effect to the president of my alma mater several years ago when the editor’s chutzpah landed the whole operation in hot water.

What do you think? Should the industry take government money?



  1. My opinion: No. Once you take money from the government, then there will be folks expecting nice, non-critical stories if they are doing something wrong. It will cause a lot of issues down the road. It’s the same way I feel about receiving gifts or people buy me a meal because I write about them. I tell I appreciate the thought, but I don’t want it to go further because of that line. Good topic Clay

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