Skip to content
Insight on digital media from the team at LexBlog, Inc.

The pros and cons of publicly funded media


Illustration by Greg Storey

June 11, 2021

If you’ve read almost anything else I’ve written (here or here), you may have figured out that I’m interested in the intersection between politics and publishing.

Today’s post is inspired by an article I found on Feedly titled “Op-ed: Strengthen our democracy by funding public media.” The article discusses the United States’ lack of monetary support for its news sources and how the heavy reliance on private donors to fund national media does a great disservice to the state of our democracy.

I think the article makes a lot of sense and is packed with good points. The crux of its argument is summed up here:

To reach its full democratic potential, public media must be politically and economically independent. This goal requires closing the federal funding gap, as well as ensuring that adequate financial support is guaranteed well into the future, shielded from political whims and interference.

The article discusses how, with a rapidly spiraling newspaper industry, nearly constant economic upheaval and a global pandemic, America’s need for reliable dispersion of information has perhaps never been so heightened. Government acknowledgement and prioritization of that need establishes the media as a public good and creates more security, accessibility and trust, strengthening the American people’s relationship as a whole with the media.

Full transparency: I believe that the government should be funding a lot of things that it currently doesn’t (i.e. health care and housing). I support adding media to the list, both for the reasons cited in the article, such as its establishment as a public good and its ability to increase public trust in the media.

Public funding ultimately establishes media as a public good. A media system founded on a non-commercial logic doesn’t privilege those who can pay or whom advertisers wish to reach…Public media’s other key advantage is related to trust… Americans across the political spectrum tend to trust local media over national outlets. These higher levels of trust could provide a bipartisan leverage point for finally supporting our public media—and our democracy—at the levels they deserve.

I also think that public media funding makes sense for a few reasons that the article didn’t directly mention.

Increased funding would hopefully prevent against publications’ perceived need for paywalls online, which I’ve discussed previously as vehicles for misinformation.

The stability of government support could additionally encourage and create opportunities for more people to enter the journalism industry. Right now, the highly competitive nature of acquiring jobs at major media outlets (i.e. CNN, NBC) has, in my opinion, created an aura of elitism apparent to those hoping to support themselves in a full-time reporting job.

The government’s emphasis and establishment of the media as a public good would, hopefully, lead to a subsequent increase in national consumption as well.

Despite this, I want to acknowledge the risks of a government-sponsored media. Obviously, there are several associated risks—mainly in terms of the censorship of content. That’s why I see value in not having the media rely entirely on funding from the government-just more than it is receiving now.

Investigative journalism into the government itself certainly isn’t as common as it could be. Nevertheless, I believe that its value should not be overlooked, nor should the fact that it would be limited drastically by increased government funding to media outlets. Just as the private interests currently funding the news undeniably exercise a degree of control over the content that is published, monetary influence from the government poses a similar risk, which absolutely must be tempered. I thought it was odd that the article didn’t really address this.

I suppose my main critique of the article then, is not the argument it makes for public funding of the media, but, rather its claim that this would in turn strengthen our democracy. I believe that a sustained tension between the government and the media and the government’s allowance of honest reporting regardless of its own interests would be a true testament to democracy.  Whether this will actually occur, we may never know.

Posted in: