Monthly Archives: December 2011

A National Fund for Local News?


Former Washington Post Executive Editor, Len Downie, Jr., has authored a report for the Columbia School of Journalism entitled “The Reconstruction of American Journalism”.  In the report, Downie defends the endangered practice of accountability journalism. Promoting a ground-up strategy that could strengthen local journalism, he calls upon the FCC to create a national fund for local news.  Supporting robust local journalism, especially in public radio and television, is commendable, but establishing a discrete public fund may prove a long, uphill battle that would not remedy PBS’ larger funding and programming problems.  Restructuring PBS at the national level and giving it the means to expand its coverage of local, national, and international news seems a more holistic approach.  The BBC’s extensive local news sets the standard and proves the point.  Still, Downie’s report underscores the necessity of public journalism in our national life and the report should be required reading for the FCC, Congress, and the Obama administration, especially in the greater context of PBS reform.  To watch Jeffrey Brown’s Newshour interview of both Len Downie, Jr. and Nicholas Lehman, Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism (aired 10/20/09), click here.


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Brits buy the world for 39 pence a day!

How much does it cost to run the greatest public broadcasting system on earth?  We’re obviously talking about the BBC here, and a mere £11.63 ($19.53 USD) per month, per household, license fee is all it takes to keep the Beeb in business.  That works out to £139.50 ($234.17 USD) a year, or 39 pence (65 US cents) a day.  To see the astonishing array of world class TV, radio, and internet networks this modest fee buys, click here.

Could the US support a similar funding system for PBS?  Well, considering that the US population is 5 times greater than that of the UK, PBS  would only have to charge 13 cents a day, or $3.95 a month, or $47.45 a year!  Seems like a mighty good deal, compared to what premium cable channels cost these days. What’s a brighter future for PBS worth to you?

But wait…there’s more!  Act now, and a license fee system will not only revitalize PBS and expand its reach, but it will throw in a boost to the economy at no extra charge!  The BBC’s website makes the point (and again, feel free to multiply by five to imagine the potential scale for PBS):

A third of the licence fee is spent outside the BBC, supporting the broadcasting industry as a whole – that’s around £1.1billion a year.

Independent producers, programme-makers and artists are part of the ‘creative economy’, which ranges from TV and music to film, digital and computer games. This industry is vitally important to the UK economy, and the licence fee money we invest is particularly important during the recession.

We’re also moving more and more of our operations outside London and the South East of England, which spreads the benefit of the licence fee more widely across the whole of the UK.

Between the BBC and PBS, which funding system do you think fares better in hard times?  Here’s a hint: Dru Sefton over at writes about the 10% year-end staff layoffs at PBS.

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