MINOT, N.D. — Journalists are supposed to be dispassionate and objective observers of current events.
Even those of us who work on the opinion side of the business should have truth as our objective. I'm a conservative, but I also have a long track record of factual reporting that's critical of Republicans. I'm proud of that.
Truth doesn't have an ideology.
It's hard to square these notions, though, with the inclusion of a tax credit for the news industry included in the Democrats' spending bonanza.
I'm talking about the Local Journalism Sustainability Act which, per a supportive editorial from the Duluth News Tribune, "is in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that the House Ways and Means Committee was finalizing."
"The act would create tax credits of up to $12,500 per quarter for print or digital local newspaper publishers employing and hiring local journalists," the News Tribune editorial tells us. "The credits are meant to help staunch the layoffs that have reduced newspaper staffs because of financial challenges."
Just looking at the policy itself, it's probably a good one. The miasma of half-truths and falsities America has been living in during the pandemic, and before, begs for the cleansing antidote of more journalism. Local journalism, in particular. If anything, we need less of the national stuff.
The problem is that by accepting the largesse from the federal government, the news industry puts its objectivity at risk. Anything the government can give it can also take away. Does a business that concerns itself with reporting things politicians don't want you to hear really want to make itself dependent on tax credits from those same politicians?
This problem has manifested itself even now before the Act has been enacted. The reconciliation bill is a deeply polarizing piece of public policy. It's ostensibly an infrastructure bill, but Democrats have taken to branding everything on their policy wish list "infrastructure."
Now even the trade groups representing journalists are playing ball with that rhetorical sleight of hand. “I've argued before that local journalism is critical infrastructure of democracy. It's especially needed as the federal government embarks on a historic wave of domestic investment,” Brier Dudley, editor of the Seattle Times’ Save the Free Press Initiative, wrote in a July column, apparently oblivious to the fundamental contradiction in his own words.
Can the news industry objectively scrutinize, analyze, and editorialize a "historic wave of domestic investment" if that "investment" bill includes a hefty dollop of taxpayer cash for the news industry?
America has a crisis of trust right now. Passing newspaper subsidies as part of a hyperpartisan spending bill isn't going to help that situation.
Again, I'm generally supportive of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, as fraught as it is for the relationship between the government and the news media, but if it's going to become law, it should do so on its own merits as a stand-alone bill.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.