Media Moves

How about giving every American $50 to donate to their favorite news outlet?

September 5, 2019

Posted by Yvonne Zacharias

Yet another life raft is being floated to salvage the floundering media industry. It’s a novel one at that. 

The Poynter Institute reports on an academics’ proposal to give every American $50 to donate to news organizations. 

It comes in the form of a white paper from a group of seven well-credentialed academics, led by Guy Rolnik of the Stigler Center of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

There is precedent for the scheme, cited by the ad hoc group as a model: For the last two local election cycles, Seattle has given citizens tax-funded vouchers to pass on as campaign contributions to a city candidate of their choice.

Anticipating pitfalls, there are a number of caveats put forth by the academics in the white paper. 

Only outlets that predominantly run serious news would be eligible. 

Since not every taxpayer would have a favorite outlet or choose to participate, the balance of the money appropriated would be distributed pro-rata to those outlets that were selected. 

And no one outlet could receive more than one per cent of the total. 

Poynter’s media business analyst, Rick Edmonds, reached Rolnik by phone in Israel, where he grew up and spent most of his career, and he explained that the voucher idea was different by design from other subsidy plans, aiming to take politics out of allocations and instead let the end users of news decide.

“We think journalism is a public good that has always been underfunded, and that has only gotten worse,” Rolnik said.

The proposal makes no distinction between broadcast, print and digital-only news sites.

Besides Rolnik, co-authors of the paper are Julia Cagé of Sciences Po, Paris; Joshua Gans of the University of Toronto; Ellen Goodman of Rutgers University; Brian Knight of Brown University and Andrea Prat and Anya Schiffrin, both of Columbia University.


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