Program Recap—American Journalism: Views on Reconstructing the Falling Industry

Friday, March 19, 2010

By Vincent Stehle
Consultant, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

On February 23rd, Philanthropy New York hosted a debate between Michael Schudson, co-author of The Reconstruction of American Journalism and Professor of Communication at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, andCalvin Sims, Program Officer at the Ford Foundation, to hear their views on the role of government, the role of philanthropy, the role of professional journalists, and the changing role of the audience in reconstructing the failing print media industry. (Philanthropy New York also hosted a members briefing on the print media crisis last year.) We are pleased to have the debate’s moderator, Vincent Stehle, Consultant with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, provide us with a recap of the program. (Mr. Stehle is no stranger to this topic, having shared his thoughts with Smart Assets last year.)

(This piece was originally published on the Knight Foundation Blog, and is reprinted with permission.)

Philanthropy New York recently convened a debate and discussion about the future of journalism and the vital role of news and information in healthy communities. Columbia J School professor Michael Schudson, co-author with Leonard Downie of The Reconstruction of American Journalism, elaborated on the controversial report’s call for increased government support for news gathering activities, pointing out that there has long been public support of publishing activities through postal subsidies and many other streams of support. Besides which, he argued, many liberal democracies—the United Kingdom, Sweden, and France among them—have shown that robust public media can flourish without political pressure and influence.

Ford Foundation Program Officer Calvin Sims acknowledged some appropriate roles for government support of media, but cautioned against rash reactions. Sims, a longtime reporter with The New York Times, with significant experience in multimedia production, agreed that journalism is a field in transition, but did not concede that we have reached a crisis point demanding dramatic federal intervention. Despite some differences in emphasis, Schudson and Sims agreed that there is a role for some government support of media.

Although the Downie-Schudson report has gained most notoriety for its recommendations regarding government support for journalism, the report also calls on philanthropy to increase its support for news organizations and accountability reporting. In addition, it urges academic institutions and public broadcasters to step up their local news reporting activities. And perhaps its least controversial suggestion is that journalists, nonprofit organizations, and governments should all do more to increase the accessibility and usefulness of government information—a recommendation that echoes in large measure the findings of the Knight Commission report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.

Until recently, Vincent Stehle was the Program Director for the Nonprofit Sector Support Program at the Surdna Foundation, a family foundation based in New York City with assets approaching $700 million. The Nonprofit Sector Support Program focused on strengthening the policy and advocacy role of nonprofits, their internal management, and their ability to adapt to changing political, economic, and technological environments. Before joining Surdna, Mr. Stehle worked for ten years as a reporter for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, where he covered fundraising and management issues for the nonprofit sector. He has also written extensively for other publications, including The Washington PostThe Nation, and Symphony Magazine. Mr. Stehle has served as Chairperson of Philanthropy New York and on the governing boards of YouthNoise, VolunteerMatch, and the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN). He currently serves on the board of Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media.

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