Sunday, August 09, 2009

Ben Cardin on the Mainstream Media

Last week, the Sentinel sat down with U.S. Senator Ben Cardin. Their entire interview is a good read, but this exchange over the mainstream media caught our eye.

The Sentinel: One of the other things I wanted to cover for, I guess for constituents, for younger constituents especially, there's such a plethora of information out there or ability to access information, yet it seems like information has been watered down to where it can't be found. How do you combat that?

Cardin: I don't know that it's watered down so you can't find it - there's information, the availability of information is almost unlimited because of the ability to search on the Internet. What I find frustrating is the quality of good reporting. There's not a lot of good, investigative work being done today. Now, I look at what I do in the United States Senate and look at the number of local reporters who cover what I'm doing, and it's not very many. And the same thing's true of businesses in Maryland and the same thing's true of schools or environmental issues, there's just not - the quality of investigative reporting, the quality of the news bureaus of our local papers has been greatly diminished, and one of the reasons it's greatly diminished is because people are getting their news online and get it with less cost, and therefore the financial ability of local papers to maintain robust bureaus is compromised. I have the answer for that, but that's -

The Sentinel: What's your answer?

Cardin: Well the answer is first of all, they should have different - other revenue options than advertising and subscription.

The Sentinel: Such as…

Cardin: Well I've suggested that if there's local people who want to help support it through a non-profit, they should be able to contribute to a news organization as a non-profit. And I've also suggested that you should look up compensation for original news source on the Internet; there should be some way of papers being financially compensated for their work being used on the Internet, the original work.

The Sentinel: The original work, like a copyright.

Cardin: Right. It's impossible to do under our current trust laws. There's no way that a local paper can keep its information off the Internet without having an understanding of other news organizations, otherwise you'll be at a terrible competitive disadvantage.

The Sentinel: And you know the problem that everyone in the news industry would have with a non-profit-government interference.

Cardin: There is no government interference; it's to protect it! Does the government interfere with the church? Church is a non-profit.

The Sentinel: But it is - you understand, the appearance versus reality.

Cardin: I understand the appearance. And when I explain it, people start to say 'Hey, wait, maybe you're right.' I mean, it's the same model we use for private schools, it's the same model we use for churches, and it preserves the government staying away from it - I would oppose anything that would allow the government to interfere with the free press.

That's against the free press; free press has to work independently. Today, what's happening is because of the realities of the current marketplace, you're losing the checks and balances that a free press provides in a democratic society, 'cause you're not getting the same investment in independent reporting. Therefore, you need a model that can work, and the reality of life is that subscription and advertising is not going to work, so where the other revenue flows, and what's wrong with a private foundation being able to support an independent news organization for its community?