Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Seth Lipsky: NPR Bad for High Culture

From "The Real Case for Defunding NPR," in the Wall Street Journal:
My quarrel with government subsidies to NPR—via grants from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting—is that they cast a chill over the markets in which private entrepreneurs seek to raise capital for what might be called highbrow journalism. It is hard to quantify this. But it is a conclusion that I have reached after more than two decades spent seeking to raise capital for privately-owned publications competing in this arena.

More than once I have been interrupted, while singing the song of quality journalism to a potential investor, to be asked, "Isn't this already being done by public broadcasting?"

In the instances when that or similar questions were put to me, I was not even seeking to raise capital for broadcasting but rather for small newspapers—the Jewish Forward, in the 1990s, and then the New York Sun. And I wasn't entirely hapless. Many millions of dollars were eventually invested in the two newspapers, and any failures they met were not the fault of the government, but were entirely my own.

I have often wondered, though, what effect the government subsidies have on the broader world, in broadcast and print, of quality journalism. I recognize that the percentage of NPR's funds coming from the taxpayers is but 1% or 2%, or between $1.5 million and $3 million. But whatever the scale, seed capital from a credible investor is an enormous help to any effort, and my own experience is that it would have been easier to raise capital had there been no government-funded competition.

These are questions for Congress to explore when it looks into whether to continue funding for NPR. It's been nearly two generations now since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. It's not clear to me, incidentally, what constitutionally enumerated power Congress was relying on to pass such an act. But leave that question aside. What has been the impact on the quality of privately funded journalism of the octopus that government funding of broadcasting helped create?
More about NPR from Lipsky in The New York Sun.