An Economic Case for Government News

In the current media landscape it can feel as if there is no escape from clickbait/hyperbole, fake news, and sensationalism. These problems seem so large that many are demanding grand government, or private sector solutions such as censorship and monitoring of news/news-like creations.  However, if we look to the past there is a much easier method for correcting some of the model day problems: publicly funded news. In the early 1900s many newspapers engaged in tactics of story fabrication/embellishment, cheap gimmicks, and badly sourced stories, in order to engage audiences. These papers, called yellow papers, were then sold for a very low cost, making them affordable and widespread. It seemed as though there was no way to stop this undermining of the press, until subscription services came about. Subscription services eliminated much of the yellow journalism by allowing readers to pay for higher quality content and allowing newspapers to make a profit by doing decent work. This mirrors much of the modern crisis, as free/cheap (you often pay in personal data) news abounds and its quality is very questionable. As a result, the subscription model has been promoted by many modern activists and journalists as a solution to the fake news crisis.

The problem with a subscription-based solution to our modern crisis is that it only eliminates some of the problems. Subscriptions promote in a market-friendly manner well-sourced journalism with little fabrication. While bad actors will still exist, the ability for consumers to pay some money for reputable news allows for the general improvement of modern journalism standards. Due to the competition aspect of these subscription services, they inherently will still tend towards more eye-catching/exaggerated headlines/stories, meant to draw readers in and keep them coming back for more. A simple way to correct the market undersupply of non-clickbait news is through government funding. If the government funds a more neutral public news option such as National Public Radio (NPR), then they can give consumers a source of more raw/unembellished news coverage. While many are calling for more dramatic options, sometimes it is better to simply opt for more minor government correction of the market.

About Brennan

Brennan is a fourth year economics major at the University of Puget Sound.

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