Federal Workshop seeks comments on Journalism

Read the new Obama administration proposal to fix journalism and comment! (Links below and in the sidebar.)
The right wing is attacking blindly and misinformed as usual.
Actually, read my ideas, then comment!

Here are my own comments..

Journalists need a professional organization similar to the bar for attorneys, only tougher and more transparent. Journalists would pay to belong to this voluntary pressbar, adhere to clearly defined and marketed ethical standards, pass a rigorous admission test and do continuing education in order to stay in this voluntary, accredited association. Reporters would get special tax breaks and be able to display the symbol by their name. Most of all, the professional must BE GIVEN THE POWER to choose news that matters, not choose news for immediate titillation of the Yahoo top 10 engine.

I’m hoping that if nothing else I say catches your attention, this will. The proposals before the FTC are ALL terrific ideas and I hope the Obama administration can find a way to implement as many of these ideas as possible, especially the Americorps journalism army and the national fund for lcoal news. My pressbar idea fits perfectly with the proposal of public benefit corporations.

Corporations have spent my entire 26-year journalism career assaulting the professional status of journalists. Their mismanagement consists of nothing more than paying everybody less and replacing professional journalists with opinion shouters and obedient sycophants.

I’ve been continuously employed at a newspaper since I was in my early 20s. I’ve been managing editor of the Napa Valley Register, a journalism professor at Dominican University of California, worked for the Sacramento Bee for three years, during which time I covered Melvin Belli’s last trial and I have contributed to over 70 publications as a freelancer, such as Christian Science Monitor, E Magazine and many others.

The ideas to be articulated June 15 are the best chance we have to rescue the profession I love from the idiocy created by free-market worshippers— and the heirs and heiresses who destroyed the value of newspapers with penny pinching to maintain their 30 percent profits long before the Internet came along.

I like the ideas of experimenting with Hot News copyright protection and IP protections. I encourage you to experiment with these to keep alive as much real journalism as possible.

But the ultimate answer is to empower young (and old) journalists as professionals, to allow them as professionals the power to chose news stories. When news professionals are given the ability to define what is important and to tell people something they DON’T ALREADY KNOW. Ask yourself, when was the last time you learned something from news coverage? (Not counting breaking news like earthquakes or basic looks into the windows of foreign lands)

You see, the deregulated corporate model has created a mainstream media that is the world’s largest 8th grade class. It operates on the junior high principles of what’s cool and what’s popular. How does this happen? Capital bans professionalism, as always, in favor of the gratification of immediate profits.

This idiocy isn’t going away anytime soon. But when the public starts reading professional journalists who tell them what’s wrong with the market BEFORE they lose all their money, they will eventually turn off the romance and personal interest stories and tune into real professional-produced news.

Your efforts here could give professional journalists the chance to rise above market-based crap and once there, I believe people will come to depend on them.

What we are missing under the current model is truly frightening. Let me give one quick example.

I now chose to live on the Mendocino Coast and work for a pair of tiny weeklies, while making a living elsewhere. When wave energy was proposed here, I was not surprised to find NO OTHER MEDIA SOURCE IN THE US WAS SERIOUSLY COVERING THIS ISSUE. I did that and created huge public interest locally and caused the US MMS to shift its national pilot program to our tiny community, among other dramatic impacts of writing about something new and different. When I started in the biz, there would have been a dozen newspapers sending serious reporters onto this issue.

Thousands of reporters for Tiger, not one for wave energy. This is how broken the market based approach is. If the market picks the stories, it picks pure sensational crap. The professional I referenced above must have the POWER to choose story topics. Allowed to do so, they can engage the public, not simply titillate it.
Obviously, the employer must have substantial INITIAL motivation from the government to employ a member of the journalism bar, rather than hiring ethics free non-professionals to peek into the underwear of celebrities.

The public benefit corporation would go along way toward solving this.

Twenty years of dumbing down and cutting salaries leaves us with the largest news coverage gaps in history. And at a time when real, tough analysis is needed, we are getting oversimplified junk at best. At worst, we must rely on news from a million screaming, untrained bloggers, most with no research and all opinion.

The first thing I DON’T LIKE about the proposals is they could easily empower corporations to own everything professionals produce. This is the WRONG direction. There must be even more small community empowerment and the concept of private property must stop moving to the right. Employees must be able to demand equity, retirement and health care.

Ultimately, the corporate structure itself must be challenged for these fine ideas to work. Corporations are great for railroads, car companies, insurance and oil companies. They are an awful model for banking, media, medical practices and retail. These are LOCAL economic models that must reward creativity with economic power, now held by remote chains. All corporations in the these four businesses should be taxed out of resistance in order to empower local enterprises that can foster community power and professionalism. As it is, a media corporation has incredible tax advantages over the local competitor. Anti trust laws MUST be used to prevent further consolidations and combinations. History shows big chains don’t produce bigger and better news, just the opposite.

The first and easiest step is to restore pre-Reagan ownership restrictions on the public airwaves.

That being said, I support industry wide compulsory licensing as a first step, as a way to get control of the out of control blather that threatens to forever create rightful distrust in the minds of anyone with a pulse.

Unfortunately, journalists will need convincing, but I plead with you to stay with it. Your statement, “Many people, including journalists, recoil at the thought of government
assistance to sustain journalism” is true, sadly. I don’t know how they can see how terrible journalism has become under the corporate model and still howl about government, not media consolidation and the crushing of local ownerships.

There were times when many if not most white people believed at some level that blacks and women couldn’t do the same jobs as white men. This was changed DESPITE archaic thinking. I ask you to have this kind of courage with journalism. Also, the years of dumbing down has produced modern journalists that are mostly well….gullible let’s say.
Of course PBS is vastly better than the corporate news. The gap is widening, subsidies work, use them. Please, please find a way to do the Americorps project. I work with Americorp medical trainees and that is a great program.

This could be a first step out of the outhouse basement that market-based journalism has put our nation in.

Funding PBS- hmmmm, good idea, but a more dramatic change would be to fund LOCAL radio news in LOCAL communities, perhaps to be trained by PBS. The core proposals have made me so happy, just to see them in print and to realize that my government is smart enough to consider these.

With my beloved media in the hands of money gollums, hate goblins and managers so visionless as to make AIG appear competent, I fear for your success. But I’d do anything to help you make ALL these ideas go. Add mine at the top or not.

  • Establish a “journalism” division of AmeriCorps
  • Establish a National Fund for Local News.
  • Establish Citizenship News Vouchers. Citizenship news vouchers would allow every American tax payer to allocate some amount of government funds to the non- profit media organization of their choice.
  • Provide a tax credit to news organizations for every journalist they employ.
  • Provide grants to universities to conduct investigative journalism.
  • Allow the Small Business Administration to insure loans to fund new nonprofit journalism organizations.
  • Allow content developed for international broadcasting to be used domestically.
  • Increase postal subsidies for newspapers and periodicals.

Financing proposals:

  1. Tax on consumer electronics. A 5 percent tax on consumer electronics would
    generate approximately $4 billion annually.
  2. Spectrum auction tax. They suggest there be a tax on the auction sales prices for commercial communication spectrum, with the proceeds going to the public-media fund.
  3. Advertising taxes. They note a considerable amount of our broadcast spectrum has been turned over to disseminating commercial advertisements, and a 2 percent sales tax on advertising would generate approximately $5 to $6 billion annually. In addition, they suggest that changing the tax write-off of all advertising as a business expense in a single year to a write-off over a 5-year period would generate an additional $2 billion per year. THIS WOULD ALSO BE A WAY OF TAKING CORPORATE MONEY OUT OF POLITICS IF DONE RIGHT. ADVERTISING AND POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS ARE “BUSINESS EXPENSES NOW AND THUS TAX FREE. CHANGING THIS COULD CHANGE EVERYTHING.
  4. ISP-cell phone tax. They suggest consumers could pay a small tax on their monthly ISP-cell phone bills to fund content they access on their digital services. A tax of 3 percent on the monthly fees would generate $6 billion annually. They note, however, this is the least desirable approach because demand for these services is “elastic” and even a slight rise in price could result in people dropping the service. I SAY GREAT! People will soon enough realize they need real news.

I’m not so sure of myself on non-profit models. I’ll leave that to others. I would support doubling tax rates for every newspaper, radio or Web outlet a corporation owns. This could be phased in slowly, so that local owners could gradually take over media ownership again.

One on your list I do like is
1. “Benefit” and “Flexible Purpose” Corporations . This is where my proposal fits in, this is where the press-bar people could work, this is the model we could use to rebuild journalism across all forms of media.

The development of “benefit” corporations has been stymied by restrictions in
the law, including business judgment laws. Most state laws establish that an officer’s
fiduciary duty is to maximize a business’s profits.132 This business judgment rule requires officers and directors to prefer business conduct that improves profitability over conduct directed toward a particular socially beneficial purpose.133

In April 2010, the state of Maryland passed a statute to create a new corporate
form known as a “benefit corporation.”134 Under this law, a corporation may qualify as a “benefit corporation” if it establishes that its mission provides a “vital service to the general public.”

The proposal is full of more great ideas, not the least of which is making government information accessible.

When I was a young reporter I did a series on organized crime, not really knowing what I was getting into. After, I got a note from a federal judge in San Francisco. He invited me to his office when I was in the city. When I took him up on it, he said there were thousands of pages of material in the civil and criminal court files that nobody had ever reported on and which were vastly important. He didn’t want to bias me and said (incredible but true) that I could have access to all the files, as long as I took nothing with me but my notebook when I left. There were no cell phones or digital cameras naturally, but man, did I see some great stories. I pulled a few out, but left most behind, as my employers were, even then, market based enough not to allow me to spend that kind of time on local news rather than state and national news.

Of course, security has changed and nothing like this would be ever allowed anywhere. Records, now on computers, are harder to get ahold of than ever. Records like lawsuits, property ownership and much of the money trail can now only be followed by lawyers with bundles of cash. And our futures are less secure because of it.

I’ve had the thrill of being a journalist in the twilight hours of the heyday of newspapers and seeing the dawn of a new age that offers amazing new tools being shined by people who lack the news knowledge of the old crusts who greeted me on my first day in the city room.

I’ve seen my stories fall flat mostly, but occasionally change things. I have lifetime fans of my work because, in an age of illusion, I use the wisdom passed on by true professionals.

If we had trained, educated news professionals at work, the public would now realize how any trained professional journalist SAW the financial crisis coming.

Unfortunately, the corporate model so overworks and stretches and fails to train journalists that the corporation cannot deliver a worthwhile product. No amount of “voluntary” regulatory efforts has prevented corporate ownership from shooting itself in the foot over and over, as well as other key body parts.

Given giant tax cuts by Bush, the corporate and wealthy class didn’t invest that money, they used it to turn Wall Street into the world’s largest and most destructive casino, removing the capital from productive job production.

These ideas are worthy of the 21st century and would allow craftsmen and women to replace the lowballing capital that is also destroying medicine, home building and every other dignified profession. The business model of the GOP- complete deregulation of corporation and transfer of all responsibility and taxes from the capital class to the working class – has led directly to the financial collapse and the BP oil spill.

Someday some Republicans may learn that working, professional people have some rights too and that all their efforts shouldn’t be toward making life easier for the rich and the corporations.

The proposals before the FTC on June 15 in PDF form:
www.ftc.gov/opp/workshops/news/jun15/docs/new-staff-discussion.pdf

The correction of the universal fact errors about this being “reported” in the blogosphere and on Fox News;
http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/06/journalism.shtm

How to comment;
http://public.commentworks.com/ftc/newsmediaworkshop/

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