Government-funded news not the answer

By Sarah Stultz

Editor, Albert Lea Tribune

Earlier this month, legislation passed in New Jersey known as the Civic Info Bill, which dedicates $5 million in one-time money to the creation of the nonprofit Civic Information Consortium.

The plan, according to the national 501(c)3 organization FreePress, which lobbied for the legislation, would go to “revive, strengthen and transform local media in New Jersey.” The money is intended for projects designed to “meet the information needs of residents around New Jersey, especially in underserved communities, low-income communities and communities of color” and would be supported by five of the state’s universities.

Mike Rispoli, state director of the Free Press Action Fund, called it a “historic victory” for the people of the state and said that in a time of media consolidation, it would help secure money to strengthen local news and information.

While at first glance, some may call this an idea with merit — with a goal of increasing civic engagement — I believe it is a slippery slope that makes me nervous as a journalist. Are there strings attached, and what kind of perception does this give?

There is a great book called “The Elements of Journalism” that talks about what makes good journalism.

It states journalism’s first obligation is to the truth and its first loyalty is to citizens. Journalists must maintain an independence from those entities and people they cover — whether it is business leaders, city officials, school board members, legislators or any others in power, so to speak, in the community. A major role of journalists is to serve as a watchdog over these groups and to offer a voice to the voiceless.

It seems conflicting to do this if you are receiving money from the source you are supposed to be watching over.

Newspapers also have the responsibility of being a forum where people can display their opinions and criticisms on happenings at any level.

No one can pay to have stories in the newspaper, but people can voice their opinions on the Opinion Page each day.

While it’s true that many newspapers have consolidated in recent years, the need for solid, independent journalism has never been more important.

I believe the answer to strengthening local journalism does not come from government funding — the answer has to come from within our own communities.

See a need for expanded coverage in your local newspaper? Subscribe to the newspaper, and help it grow.

Let your children see you reading the newspaper, and teach them the value of community journalism.

Stress the importance of relying on established news organizations and not all of the sources you find online today.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Tuesday.

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