In an effort to combat a decline in the local news media industry, one Colorado town is considering funding a new media outlet using taxpayers dollars from the city's library fund. Opponents of the plan, however, say that the outlet will, in essence, turn into a propaganda arm for the local government.
According to Longmont Times-Call, "Scott Converse, co-founder of local news nonprofit the Longmont Observer, is among those pitching a news operation funded by a library district encompassing the city that would be supported by a new tax on those in its boundaries."
Converse argues that if a government-funded news outlet happened, taxpayers would "would fill a need in Longmont created by massive job cuts in the news industry over the past two decades that have impacted newsrooms across the country, including the Times-Call, Boulder Daily Camera and Denver Post."
But, critics say there is a distinct difference between those kinds of news outlets and taxpayer funded media source.
“Readers do need to understand the difference between a government-run news source and a nonprofit or an advertising/subscription-supported news organization,” Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Executive Director Jeffrey Roberts told Longmont Times-Call.
“A vital function of the news media is to provide the public with an independent source of information, one that doesn’t just report what public officials say. It goes deeper. It examines the records, looks for other points of view and acts as a watchdog over government activities and spending. It seeks the truth about all sorts of issues of public interest," Roberts continued. "While a city-run or a library district-run site might offer some useful and interesting community news, it’s not an adequate replacement for independent, professional journalists covering municipalities, school districts, counties and library districts.”
Likewise, area newspaper editors said they understood Converse's perspective but overall felt it lead to biased news.
“I heard about Longmont’s library district initiative while reporting on the potential Boulder library district, and I am both intrigued and wary at the same time,” Left Hand Valley Courier editor Jocelyn Rowley told Longmont Times-Call. “Clearly local journalism is in trouble, but my inner-libertarian hears ‘government-run news source’ and thinks Pravda (the Russian newspaper formerly run by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union). Of course, a library district isn’t exactly the Politburo, but it isn’t exactly viewpoint-neutral, either,”
But, Converse insists this initiative is to help promote local journalism.
“You have to make sure there is something out there that keeps the spirit of what journalism is all about alive,” Converse said. “I feel for you guys, I really do. I honestly feel for the people that are working at the Times-Call and Daily Camera. I look at what the papers used to be and what they are today, and it breaks my heart.”
The Longmont City Council will be discussing this proposal this upcoming Tuesday.