I missed this because the communique dropped the day before Thanksgiving, but Minnesota Public Radio CEO Bill Kling finally responded to Star Tribune publisher Mike Sweeney’s pokes at MPR getting government money. Thanks to reader Nate Minor for sending it my way.
Here are some excerpts; the entire piece is here. (By the way, Bill — Nancy Barnes is the Strib’s editor, not managing editor):
In meeting rooms in St. Paul and on these editorial pages, Star Tribune Publisher Mike Sweeney has spoken out strongly recently about the supposed misguided policy of government funding for news organizations.
While we respect Mr. Sweeney’s view, and believe that it was important to hear from him, we are not persuaded. At the core of his argument are two contentions, both refutable by analyzing the reality behind the rhetoric.
First, Mr. Sweeney contends that an organization funded partly by government cannot objectively report on government. The answer is it can, with strong, fiercely independent editorial leadership and rock-solid journalistic principles, much the same as the Star Tribune will find in its own newsroom when it comes to tough reporting about big advertisers. We’d invite Mr. Sweeney to look for any compromised coverage of government by MPR News, PBS’ “Frontline” or National Public Radio; he won’t find it. And, slightly further away, the British Broadcasting Corporation, one of the preeminent news organizations in the world, has for 77 years demonstrated repeatedly that government funding and tough reporting are not mutually exclusive.
Second, Mr. Sweeney asserts that government support unfairly tilts the playing field and stifles innovation. To the contrary, non-profit news organizations with modest government support offer an alternative well worth exploring in face of the danger that the free market will fail the news business entirely (as the Star Tribune’s recent trip through bankruptcy warns), or will create a situation where there are monopoly players — as has happened in many cities across the U.S.
Now is not the time to limit our search for what works. To the contrary, it is more urgent than ever to determine what role — if any — the government should play in ensuring a healthy news industry.
… It’s clear there is no “right way” to the future of news; there are hundreds. We are still in an era of experimentation and learning about what works and what doesn’t in our new interconnected electronic world. That includes questions of government funding —like the BBC model — and encouragement of both non-profit and for-profit approaches. Like the mix of stores in any good retail mall, a diversity of news models (or at least more than a monopoly) is important to build and maintain an informed citizenry.