Non invasive, not-for-profit, and did I mention free? If ever there was a time to invest in public media surely this is that time. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has proved that there’s a lot to be said for public services like public libraries, the Post Office, public hospitals and public schools. They may not be perfect, but they were there when we needed them, and for millions of Americans stuck at home and unable to access streaming internet or school, public television was there for them and their kids. 

Family and locally-owned newsrooms have long needed help. Give them a stimulus—tax credits for subscribers; a new-journalists’ jobs program; add non-profit reporters, especially women and reporters of color, to AmeriCorps; forgive their student loans. Congress is looking at bills to do all of the above. 

But America’s non-profit, public media system needs more than a bail-out. It needs Americans to buy in for the very first time. 

While every other wealthy nation spends around $100 per citizen for public media of different kinds, the US government spends just over $1.00 on public broadcasting, leaving journalism to the market’s workings as well as leaving healthcare there.

You can complain all you like about spies and snake oil salesmen messing with the news (and your neighbors’ minds), but the best alternative to media motivated by power and profit is media paid for and driven by the public to serve the public interest.  

We haven’t seen a major commitment in that since the days of LBJ, and before that, FDR.

While people are talking new, New Deals for a better future and investments in clean air and water and other public goods, we need a New Deal for democracy by way of a real investment in public media and non-profit news.  

We’re not talking about creating a Politburo, we’re talking about PBS—or what PBS and public radio would look and sound like if they, and the independent producers who contribute to them, didn’t have to beg for every dime.

Let’s by all means “build back different.” Let’s build American Public Media differently—invested in by the public for the public—and designed to stay that way. 

You can catch my conversation with Sylvia Bugg, the new chief executive for general interest programming at PBS, on The Laura Flanders Show on public television stations across the country, or find it on the radio, or at our YouTube channel. We have live talk backs after every premier, at 11:30 am Sundays. 

And if you want to support public media, please consider making a monthly donation to The Laura Flanders Show now.

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