NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- During last year's holiday season, I used this space to appeal to readers to consider making year-end charitable contributions to nonprofit journalism outlets, like Pro Publica and the Center For Investigative Reporting.
I'd like to renew the suggestion again this year and point out that if the current budget negotiations in Washington, D.C. result in a limit on charitable deductions, this could be your last chance to give freely to these organizations and fully write it off on your taxes.
Why is this something that I feel strongly about? Simply put: it is critical that we as a democratic society increase the amount of factual, understandable and useful information that is available to our citizens to help them make better decisions to improve their lives. That means that we need journalists that are free and motivated to challenge those who wield the most power in our society, get answers to the tough questions and reveal the important facts to our citizens in a clear and compelling way.
We have many great journalists doing outstanding work in this country in both the for-profit and nonprofit spheres, but unfortunately, we do not have enough. This is a crucial problem that underlies the many difficult issues currently facing us, and the widespread doubt that exists now about whether we have the wherewithal to deal with our problems.
Let's take the recent, heartbreaking and horrific massacre in Newtown, Conn. as an example. Everyone knows that gun violence and mass shootings are occurring in America at a pace that reflects a deep, social problem. I don't think anyone disagreed with President Obama when he spoke in Newtown and said: "We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change."
However, when you get into a discussion of how we have to change, that's where the bitter disputes begin. Some people are calling for gun control. Others say we need more guns. And then there's discussion of the influence of mass media, U.S. militarism, violence in entertainment and so on. Maybe there actually is no political solution to this issue and the carnage will just continue no matter what steps are taken.
Personally, I think
similar to ours shows that more regulation of firearms -- especially the kind that are solely intended for killing people quickly in large numbers -- could be a productive step that we could take in the near-term to address the issue. But what do I know?
Good journalism could help us better understand the problem and the viable solutions to it, and the same can be said about any of the problems we're dealing with: excessive public debt, wage stagnation, environmental destruction, obesity, terrorism . . . I could go on, but let's not prolong the agony.
We do hear a lot about all these issues, but I don't see enough quality, investigative reporting that is accessible to the public, and I don't think the handful of large conglomerates that control our media --
-- are good candidates for picking up the slack.
For one, investments in journalism simply don't yield much in the way of financial rewards, and the rise of the Internet has exacerbated this as information becomes more freely available and traditional forms of advertising become less effective. In a recent regulatory filing, News Corp., which owns
The Wall Street Journal
, revealed steep losses in its publishing division and it admitted that "newspaper advertising and circulation revenues have been declining, reflecting general trends in the newspaper industry."
The New York Times
, another source of great reporting in the U.S., sacked its former CEO Janet Robinson last December, less than a year after she oversaw the launch of the company's new digital subscription model -- it's latest gambit to forge a new business model for the digital age. In October, the publisher's stock tumbled after it reported its ad revenue declined by 9% in its third-quarter, continuing a longstanding trend that it has to reverse if the company's going to endure.
Is the profession dying? I hope not, but the rise of nonprofit, independent outlets throughout the country is an attempt to fill the void. They're doing great work, and they deserve more support.
At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
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