A Free Press is vital if we are to have any chance at a functioning democracy.  On that, you’d think, Right and Left might agree. 

By “free press”  these days, we mean media of every sort, owned and operated by all sorts of people, serving up diverse content and news and viewpoints, not dictated by a few. 

Media of that sort has a long history in the US. After Tom Paine and the revolutionary pamphleteers came the 19th century rabble rousers and muckrakers, supported by diversely opinionated editors and publishers, often many in a single town. Hundreds of newspapers owned and operated by people of color existed in this country even before the Civil War, like Freedom’s Journal, in the 1820s, America’s first African American paper, which served up blistering critiques of the depictions of Black people in the white media of the time. Papers speaking to union members and non English speakers, and published in Spanish and Cherokee and Shawnee, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean throughout the 19th and first part of the 20th century. Juan Gonzales and Joseph Torres tell the story in their book, News for All The People. 

Media consolidation came later, unleashed by federal de-regulators and laws like the 1996 Telecommunications Act,  which resulted in the shrinking and whitening, and homogenizing of American journalism. In the decades that have followed, a few avaricious corporations – their sites set on profits and power – gobbled up the little guys and left the rest gasping for breath.  Now just 8 corporations own the lion’s share of the nation’s tv stations. About 2,100 newspapers closed across the country between 2005 and 2020 and at least another 80 more bit the dust in since Covid. 

This December, the Washington Post dedicated an entire edition of the magazine to a dozen stories that would have been reported in local papers  but weren’t  — because there was no local newspaper left. 

The impact on democracy is dire. Local news goes unreported, local businesses unsupported, local pandemics go untracked and people become less inclined to get involved in civic affairs. It’s disastrous for the demos – local people and places – and US democracy as a whole, reports the Post. 

Which is why you could be forgiven for thinking that federal aid for local media would be something politicians could agree on.  The Build Back Better bill passed in the House provides $1.67 billion over the next five years for newspapers, websites, radio and TV stations, – largely in the form of payroll tax credits tied to local new reporting. More news, more democracy —  House Republican Whip Steve Scalise called the whole thing a radical scam.  

But far from a scam, federal action for struggling media is only right – and a tiny step towards repairing the damage federal action, to degulate, has done. 

The battle in the Senate is likely to be bitter but the time for investment is now. As some media has declined, a new generation of innovative local media ventures has risen, newly committed to report on people and places who have been poorly served for years. Often, minority and women-led and mission-driven, operations like this show and those we feature on our Meet the BIPOC Press media roundtables have never had the big bucks. They manage with support from loyal listeners and viewers, pot lucks, parties, pledge drives, and through serving their communities. What those new ventures don’t have in money they do have in drive. $1.67 could go a long way in those hands. 

You can see our latest episode with URL media, a new network of Black and Brown owned and operated media outlets, this week on the Laura Flanders Show, and find all our Meet the BIPOC Press roundtables in our archives. Meet the BIPOC Press is a monthly feature of The LF  Show, which is not for profit, and viewer and listener supported. As the year comes to a close, we thank you for your backing and belief, and invite you to become a monthly supporter at http://www.patreon.com/theLFShow.