Rep. Ted Lieu, Democrat of California, plans to introduce a bill seeking to revive the Depression era Federal Writers' Project, the Columbia Journalism Review reports.
Says CJR: "The timing and exact details of the bill have yet to be finalized, but Lieu's office says that a new project could be anchored within the Department of Labor or a cultural agency, and run as a grant program administered through existing community institutions, including news outlets. As with the original, the goal of a new project would be both economic and cultural, putting the next generation of talent to work capturing the stories of the pandemic—those of the elderly, for example—and this broader moment, while also serving as a national archive for the existing work of local newsrooms and nonprofits."
The CJR article is, typically for that publication, so far left wing as to be laughable: "Victor Pickard, a professor of media policy and political economy at the University of Pennsylvania, sees a direct line from then to now—Red-baiting, he says, helped lock in a cultural fear of government intervention across the economy." As if aversion to government intervention across the economy were merely an irrational residue of McCarthyism rather than rooted in well-founded skepticism about the failures of central planning — fueling corruption, deadening incentives, stifling innovation, slowing growth.
Government subsidies for newsrooms are such a bad idea that it is hard to know where to start, but one place is the sheer unfairness of it. Why should entrepreneurs who have raised private capital and succeeded in the news and publishing business be taxed to, in essence, subsidize their less successful competitors? Right now, readers choose which news outlets and writers flourish by choosing which outlets to support voluntarily with their subscription dollars or book purchases. In a government-run, tax-funded system, those decisions on which writers to support, which topics to write about, and which institutions to back would be made instead by politicians or their appointed bureaucrats. Do we really want a Trump administration subsidizing Breitbart or Fox and Friends, or a Biden administration pouring money into the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post?
The "archive for the existing work" function is already filled by libraries, both public and private, and by the databases that serve them. Defenders of Federal Writers' Project idea will point out that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities already provide some subsidies to artists, writers, and journalists. Fair enough, but those institutions are subject to perennial funding battles. Why start another agency, with its own overhead, to compete with them for already scarce funding? Once journalists become dependent on government largesse, they are less likely to devote their energy to investigating government waste, fraud, and abuse. Journalists exist to be skeptical of government, not to be paid by it.