In 1792 the leaders of the brand new United States of America agreed that the survival of the nation required an unfettered press. To this end they enacted the US Postal Service Act that provided citizen-directed subsidies for newspapers. Under this act, newspapers were delivered up to 100 miles for a penny when first class postage was between 6 and 25 cents depending on distance. It was 0.2 percent of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

However, that 0.2 percent pales in comparison to the roughly 2 percent of US GDP that has been devoted to advertising since 1919, the earliest data I’ve seen. The increased militarism of US foreign policy since the Spanish-American War of 1898 roughly coincides with consolidation of ownership of the mainstream media and the increasing dominance of advertising as its primary source of funding.

Two more recent changes have amplified political divisions: The elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 increased the profitability of demonizing poor people and anyone else who doesn’t support “our” ideology and who doesn’t have the money to challenge defamation in the courts. More recently, Facebook and other social media have collected so much information about its users that it’s profitable to target ads to groups as small as 20. This leads to further demonization of the “other”, threatening the extinction of civilization.

One modest proposal to reverse this trend is the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (HR 7640), which would provide tax credits to local newspapers (print and online) and to their subscribers and small advertisers. The mainstream media have an inherent conflict of interest in telling you about this. Obviously, they don’t want the competition. More subtly, they don’t want upstarts pushing them to cover things that would offend their major advertisers.

For more information register for a virtual (Zoom) forum on this issue this Saturday, October 3, noon via:

Or listen to the following Thursday, October 8, 7-8 PM, on 90.1 FM, KKFI.org, Kansas City Community Radio.

Image:  Albion Printing Press made by Henry Watts of London. Taken in Radstock Museum