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Let's turn the news into a public utility. Let the BBC be our model.

Another shitty day for local journalism:

I mean, damnit.

We're left with a couple of conclusions:

• The business model for local newspapers has utterly failed.
• The mission of local newspapers is needed, desperately.

So I make a proposal — one I don't think will find much support in a nation used to thinking of "news" as a "business," but one that recognizes that knowing what's going on is vital to our civic health.

It's time to make the news a utility.

I thought for awhile that the model for this should be public radio, with its funding reliant on donors, grants, and some public backing. But I don't think that'll do that trick. Instead, my model is the BBC, where anybody who uses a TV is required to hold a "TV license" that pays the television, radio and online services of the BBC.

Every city, I now believe, should charge a similar licensing fee and use it to create an online news service to serve the local population. The city's governing body would appoint an independent board to oversee operations and insulate the news operation from political pressures. And while the operation would serve as a repository for citizen opinion — comments, letters to the editor, submitted op-eds — it probably wouldn't have an editorial voice the way newspapers do, so as to reduce the odds your local city council unduly influences public opinion. (This doesn't save Yael's job, unfortunately.) 

A publicly funded news operation would cover the meat-and-potatoes: Local government, crime and courts, schools — and covering sports teams of the local schools would probably be part of that — and business.

Oh, and because it's a public operation: Other news outlets, even for-profit outlets, would be able to use the content generated by the Utility News for free.

Is this a perfect solution? Nope. Will it work? I think it's time to get news out of the news business; we've had 20 years to find a business model and so far we really haven't. The information produced by the news business, however, is still needed. It's time to experiment with new forms.


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