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Make Journalism Your Charity: Opinion

The following commentary is from an investment professional with Clear Harbor Asset Management who is a participant in TheStreet's expert contributor program.

"If the broad light of day could be let in upon men's actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects."
-- Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Tired of watching your investment portfolio get ravaged by systemic banking crises? Worried about the national debt, the rise of poverty, the decline of education or the degradation of the environment? Do you think our health care system is screwed up or that our democratic institutions have been corrupted?

The holidays are a time of giving, and the U.S. tax code allows taxpayers to deduct charitable contributions, providing an incentive for people to make annual donations to causes they deem worthy.

For anyone struggling to decide on a recipient for his or her philanthropic largesse as 2011 nears its close and humanity struggles with a multitude of seemingly intractable problems, I have a modest proposal: Donate to nonprofit journalism.

Yes, I know the media may be the one institution out there that garners less respect than the U.S. Congress, but hear me out on this.

The rising trend of nonprofit, independent, online journalism outlets that are springing up around the country should not be confused with the mass media that is dominated by conglomerates such as News Corp. (NWS), Comcast (CMCSA), Walt Disney (DIS), Time Warner (TWX), Viacom (VIA) and CBS (CBS).

In the media industry, high-quality journalism -- particularly at the local level -- has become a rare commodity. The rise of the Internet, social media and search engines such as Google (GOOG) and Yahoo! (YHOO) has damaged the ability of professional news purveyors to profit off their content.

Investment news has fared well because investors are willing to pay for information that helps them profit. But elsewhere -- with rare exceptions -- the industry is losing its appetite for making the investment required to sustain newsgathering operations that can produce the sort of in-depth, investigative journalism that citizens in a democracy need to root out corruption, hold people in power accountable and have an informed and productive political debate.

A recent report on this by the Federal Communications Commission observed the mass layoffs in the news industry and the increasing influence of advertisers in news content and concluded that U.S. communities "face a shortage of local, professional accountability reporting." It went on to say the "independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism -- going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy -- is in some cases at risk at the local level."
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