Vince Stehle,'Knight Foundation contributing blogger 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 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 ' 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.