When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “Democracy in America” in 1835, he declared that democracy must always entail liberty of the press, for better or for worse. Tocqueville had no delusions — freedom of the press is not inherently good, and in order to enjoy its “inestimable benefits … it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils which it engenders.” The present, unfortunately, has done more to reveal the evils of a free press than the benefits. American trust in the media has fallen to record lows, and if Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit has taught Americans anything it’s been that Fox News does not respect its viewers, Tucker Carlson hates Donald Trump and our suspicions about Rupert Murdoch’s war on journalism have all been true. While the trial is slated to start later next month, the facts of the case have already revealed the obvious: news and money do not mix. 

Unfortunately, journalistic freedom surely does not ensure integrity. Democracy may demand the liberty of the press, but capitalism just as surely promotes the pursuit of profit. Fox News’ obsession with its bottom line results in a network where ratings trump truth and advertising is king. Despite weeks of bad press and revelations of deceit by Fox hosts and executives, the network continues to rake in millions in ad revenue and has “not had one client cancel” advertising. Their business model centers advertisers rather than viewers, commodifies news and capitalizes on attention. In short, they have successfully exploited the unfortunate truth that outrage is profitable. 

While the lawsuit may permanently discredit Fox News in the eyes of many Americans, their experiment in propaganda for profit paints a grim picture of the state of news in America. The New York Times, Washington Post and local newsrooms across the country are all subject to the same market pressures, even as reverence for truth and respect for readers prevent them from resorting to underhanded tactics. While large institutions can stay afloat, local news organizations close at rate of two a week leaving “news deserts” in their wake and an information void all too easily filled with fake news. Meanwhile, bigger newspapers continue to lose money each year and inevitably contribute to misinformation by hiding credible and trustworthy journalism behind paywalls and subscription fees

Money has broken our contract with the news. The political divisions that exist in the country today less reflect ideological differences between left and right and more between those who have access to reliable information and those who do not. So how do we maintain our commitment to truth in a world that so often rewards falsehood? The answer is non-profit, public service journalism. If we hold that journalism is not merely a profession but an essential component of a functioning democracy, then we must decouple it from the perverse incentives of monetary gain and reclaim journalism as a public good. News which seeks solely to inform can only be guaranteed with donors equally committed to integrity, rather than investors concerned with maximizing returns. 

Non-profit news is not a new idea. The Associated Press was founded in 1846 by Moses Yale Beach and five daily New York-based newspapers to share the cost of covering the controversial Mexican-American War. ProPublica’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalism is funded primarily by philanthropic funds and individual donations. PBS and NPR are both government funded and member supported endowments while the Texas Tribune uses a mix of membership donations, corporate sponsorships and events revenue to provide its readers with the “civic information they need to become full participants in our democracy”— the highest ideal of any journalistic publication. 

Here in New Haven, non-profit journalism allows magazines like the Yale School of the Environment’s Yale E360 to cover important climate and environmental issues. And our very own Yale Daily News is unencumbered, covering its operational costs with the generosity of alumni through the Yale Daily News Foundation (formerly the Oldest College Daily Foundation). Funds from the foundation go towards stipends for first-generation, low-income students, summer funding for internships and maintaining our financial independence from the University. 

Our democratic right to choose is inseparable from our responsibility to make informed choices. Journalism is the means by which we inform ourselves and is the lifeblood of democracy, even as liberty is the soul. We the people need a press both free and honest. We need information that we can trust before we can begin to trust each other across states, identities and, perhaps most challengingly, political parties. As much as we need respectable journalism, we also must respect those who do its valuable work. Fox News cannot be the model for our news. Journalists tell our stories, hold our leaders accountable and write the first draft of our history. We may not always like what they say or how they say it but so long as they are guided by a desire to seek and report truth, they will continue to be essential to the proper functioning of our democracy. 

Changing our present course begins with realizing just how important journalists are in our society, whether they write for gutted small town papers like the Salinas Califonian or the storied New York Times. We must make every possible effort to save and reform this dying industry. Re-introducing and passing the bipartisan Local Journalism Sustainability Act can stop the bleeding with its provisions for tax incentives for news subscriptions or donations, payroll tax credits for journalists and refundable tax credits for small businesses that advertise in local papers but policy alone will not solve the problem. Good journalism is a two way street. We must reaffirm our own commitment to a press that is not only free, but also reliable, equitable and honorable. Securing its advantages and ensuring its future prosperity will safeguard our experiment in government of, by and for the people. 


ARIANE DE GENNARO is a sophomore in Branford College. Her column “For Country, For Yale” provides “pragmatic and sometimes provocative perspectives on relevant issues in Yale and American life.” Contact her at ariane.degennaro@yale.edu.


MICHAEL NDUBISI is a first-year in Saybrook College. His fortnightly column “A More Perfect Union” examines the American experiment, its flaws and Yalies’ role in it. Contact him at michael.ndubisi@yale.edu

Michael Ndubisi is co-editor of the Yale Daily News’ Opinion desk and one of the News’ Diversity, Equity & Inclusion co-chairs. Michael was previously an opinion columnist for the News, contributor and managing editor of ‘Time, Change and the Yale Daily News: A History’ and an associate beat reporter covering student accessibility. Originally from Long Beach, California, he is a sophomore in Saybrook College majoring in Political Science.