Will taxpayer money fund Colorado public reporting?
Following a declining trend across the country, many print editions in Colorado have also closed down. When looking at the stats, more than 30 Colorado newspapers have folded in the last two decades and approximately 44 percent of local reporters lost their jobs.
To maintain local independent news in a volatile funding environment, the Colorado Media Project discussed a white paper at the University of Colorado in Denver on Monday. There, the media outlet proposed different ways in which the local government may be able to help with funding.
“Things die, that’s a fact of life, but we need a mechanism to create new things and we need a way to pay for them,” said Gregory Moore, a former editor of the Denver Post and current editor in chief of Deke Digital.
According to research, communities that lose out on local news tend to be more polarized, less engaged and less informed. So, the Colorado Media Project proposed to solicit investment from local communities who benefit from free and independent local news.
A 2019 Pew poll results saw 81 percent of Denver adults rate local news favorably, though only 15 percent directly paid for it in the last year.
Additionally, local and national challenges are also present. At the state level, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights mandates all tax increases be approved by voters, and voters very rarely volunteer to pay more to the government. Nevertheless, the Colorado Media Project proposes a 2.9 percent extension of sales tax on digital ads targeting Coloradans that could raise $70 million for grants or small business support, while addressing the consequences of the medium change on local journalism.
“I come to this with a predisposition of skepticism with the media serving as the government watchdog,” said First Amendment attorney Steven Zansberg of Ballard Spahr. “But necessity is the mother of invention. If existing revenues were sufficient, none of us would be up here, but the status quo is in a crisis.”
The report went on to suggest that state and local governments should make data easily accessible. “We shouldn’t spend so much time working with public officials to help them understand sunshine laws,” noted Melissa Davis, vice president of the Gates Family Foundation.
However, what makes the proposal controversial, even heretical to the industry, are concerns that accepting government funds would make newsrooms beholden to the very entity they are designed to police.