WASHINGTON – The day after 10 news organizations received journalism's highest honor,the Pulitzer Prize,debate at Tuesday's House Judiciary subcommittee session ranged from proposals for saving the industry to identifying failures of modern journalists.
But politicians and witnesses,mostly industry representatives,agreed that the importance of journalism and its watchdog role remains undiminished despite financial straits caused by falling advertising revenues and decreasing print subscriptions.
“Huge actual layoffs of journalists as well as threatened closures of towns' only daily are a major threat to democracy,” said C. Edwin Baker,a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “When people are reading newspapers,corruption goes down.”
During the Courts and Competition Policy Subcommittee hearing intended to evaluate anti-trust laws' impact on newspapers,witnesses criticized media conglomerates for laying off reporters to cut costs and condemned the industry's inability to make the Internet profitable.
Rep. Lamar Smith,R-Texas,accused journalists of failing to present unbiased coverage,driving away readers who no longer trust the media. He cited data indicating that readers perceive major news outlets as more liberal than the average citizen as evidence that the media is out of touch.
“Before journalists can expect the American people to buy their reporting,they must restore the American people's trust in the news,” he said.
Several witnesses offered other suggestions for remedying problems facing newspapers,including:
- Offer government subsidies to media companies to encourage them to hire more reporters.
- Make newspaper and magazine subscriptions tax-deductible to encourage print readership.
- Encourage communication among media companies to facilitate development of innovative business models that accommodate the Internet.
“It's not always going to be in print,” said Dan Gainor,vice president of the Business and Media Institute in Alexandria,Va. “Times are changing.”