We have always subsidized the news industry because it’s a good idea, one that was revolutionary in the 1700s.
Let us not lose sight of our history entirely. The current discussion in Congress about the proposed defunding of public television and radio stems from the elevation in our culture of The Market to godlike status and from an increasingly libertarian bent to the national disposition. Hence government subsidy of anything is deemed improper and even counterproductive in a world where, if the free market were only given its proper role, all would be well.
More visionary leaders, fortunately, prevailed early in our history, when George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others advocated for the cheap distribution of periodicals so that the industry would help inform the electorate. The first major postal law in 1792 decreed, effectively, that newspapers would be charged only a sixth of what it cost to deliver a letter.
Today, electronic media are also subsidized in the interest of educating the public. But where privately owned electronic media focus on delivering what The Market demands, throwing itself with all the might it can muster into uncovering the pathos of every pathetic celebrity, public broadcasting holds up a higher standard and pushes the news industry into higher quality.
That leads to a better informed electorate, not only directly through consuming NPR and PBS broadcasts, but by holding up that standard to help encourage other media toward excellence.