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This includes a rush transcript and may not be in its final form. Some non-grammatical forms have been edited to conform more with the apparent intent than the exact verbiage, and links and notes have been added. Anyone finding errors or confusing statements is invited to correct them here or raise them in the accompanying "Discuss" page or add updates in notes and / or subsequent sections.
Free Press (
Media reform per
29:00 mm:ss podcast of interview with Craig Aaron, co-CEO of about their work to promote media reform to improve democracy.

Craig Aaron,[1] co-CEO of Free Press (, was interviewed about their program on 2021-04-29, 7-8 PM Central Time (US), on 90.1 FM, KKFI, Kansas City Community Radio as their Thursday Night Special for that date.[2]

Broadcast[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves[3] conducted the interview. It was available via Zoom and YouTube Live, courtesy of the Climate Council of Greater Kansas City.[4]

The event was also co-sponsored by Our Revolution Kansas City, Missouri,[5] the Friends of Community Media,[6] and PeaceWorks Kansas City.[7]

Transcript[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  00:00

My name is Spencer Graves.[3] I'm your host for Thursday Night Special.[2] We'll be interviewing Craig Aaron,[1] who's co-CEO of Free Press ( He is going to talk about their their program. I recruited him, because I think that is the leading organization that I know of working for media reform to improve democracy.

Spencer Graves  00:32

Of course, we need that standard disclaimer that the opinions you are about to hear are not official positions of KKFI, etc.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  00:43

Craig, why don't you just give a little bit of background of yourself and overview of your program beyond what I just said?

Craig Aaron  00:53

Sure. Thanks, Spencer. Thanks for having me. Always a pleasure to be on KKFI and great Community Media. That's a real honor. And I appreciate you inviting me tonight. I am now the co-CEO of Free Press. And I've been in a leadership role here at Free Press for about 10 years, since 2011. I've been with the organization since 2004.

Craig Aaron  01:22

The whole idea behind Free Press was to give people a voice in the media decisions that were being made in their name, but without their involvement or consent.

Craig Aaron  01:30

And so my work in my career has been all about trying to involve the public in media policymaking. Whether that's questions about who owns the media, policies being made over the future of the internet, how to contend with the influence of powerful companies and corporations, whether those are cable companies, phone companies, powerful internet platforms.

Craig Aaron  01:52

And really, how are we going to build a media system that actually serves communities, that actually represents the diversity of this country, and actually sustains democracy? So those are the kinds of things that we think about a lot at Free Press. And we have now staff spread out all across the country, I believe in 12 different states right now, during this pandemic period.

Craig Aaron  02:15

We're trying to engage the public in these important decisions, sound the alarm when something's happening here in Washington, DC, where I am. And organize, with one foot inside Washington and one foot outside, to really involve the public in making real change when it comes to the future of the media.

Spencer Graves  02:35

Thank you. I failed to mention that this is co-sponsored by the Climate Council of Greater Kansas City,[4] as well as Our Revolution Kansas City, Missouri,[5] and PeaceWorks Kansas City.[7]

Climate change[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  02:51

And Bob Grove, the president of the Climate Council[8] is, of course, especially interested in your commentary, as am I, in the role of the media in being an obstacle to progress on climate change?

Craig Aaron  03:15

There's there's no question about it: Any issue you care about, the influence of the media, how things are covered by the news media, what's considered within the range of debate, obviously, our media system plays a huge role.

Craig Aaron  03:29

I think when it comes to issue of climate change, that's only heightened. Because looking at where we are, the scientific consensus around climate change, the real threat to the future of our planet, and our ability to live on it.

Craig Aaron  03:48

And then you look at the way the mainstream media, especially TV, cable television has covered these issues over time. It hasn't been in a way that I think is often framed the real stakes of the debate. There's been a lot of space given to this kind of "both sides-ism," where there isn't any. You know, where you have a scientific consensus on one side, and maybe industry trying to undercut that for their own ends.

Craig Aaron  04:14

And too often, I think we've seen the media fall into those traps: "Oh, we have to hear from the other side," as opposed to necessarily get to the truth. I do think we're beginning to see that change. I hope it's not too late to really get at the stakes of what we're dealing with.

Craig Aaron  04:32

But I think this is, again, why we need to pay attention to who controls the media? Who owns it? What are their interests? Who are their advertisers?

Craig Aaron  04:42

And how do we put the hands of the media in more folks to offer a greater variety of perspectives and really nurture and support the kind of media that's committed to serious journalism, reporting, gathering the facts as opposed to pleasing advertisers or doing what's most convenient or in line with their political ideology?

Craig Aaron  05:09

And I think that, honestly, it's probably hard to think of an issue with higher stakes than the climate for that.

Other issues[edit | edit source]

Craig Aaron  05:15

But it overlaps with so many other issues. When we talk about, "Are we going to have a thriving and functioning democracy?" And I think, this year in particular, or 2020, 2021, in the midst of a public health crisis, in the midst of these climate challenges, economic downturn, threats to our democracy,[9] we begin to really see just how important it is to look at what role is the media playing?

Craig Aaron  05:39

Are they playing one that's supporting the seeking of truth? Are they playing one that's supporting the nurturing of democratic systems?

Craig Aaron  05:46

Or are they doing the opposite? Are they actually serving to confuse and confound, to misinform, to spread hoaxes and misinformation? These are the risks.

Craig Aaron  05:57

And far too often our media, especially our corporate media, has been driven by the bottom line over that kind of public responsibility. And too often put themselves in a position to be manipulated and confused by those who have a different agenda, who are maybe being paid by powerful companies, who don't want to see coverage that really gets at the reality of the climate crisis.

Spencer Graves  06:26

I would reiterate one of the comments you made: I came to KKFI after concluding that progress on every substantive issue I could think of was blocked, because every countermeasure threatens someone with substantive control over the media. Climate change is basically certain. We're on a deadly track.

Nuclear war and the political economy of the media[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  07:08

But climate change is not likely to threaten the extinction of civilization. I've estimated a 50% chance that a child born today will die prematurely as a direct or indirect result of a nuclear war.[10] And one possible outcome of that is the extinction of civilization. So why don't you talk to me about the role of the media in suppressing debate on these issues?

Craig Aaron  07:44

Historically, and with a growing intensity over the last 30 or 40 years, we've seen ownership of the media concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. And every time a new platform emerges promising -- this is true of radio, this is true of television, cable television, now the internet -- as new media emerge, with the promise of creating more opportunity, more voices for all, we have this countervailing force of consolidation and concentration and also commercialism, which I think is not an undervalued part of this, when you have a media system that is built, ultimately, on pleasing advertisers, you get a certain kind of media that is not necessarily a media looking for in depth and complex debate.[11] There are exceptions.

Craig Aaron  08:38

There's good journalists working in newsrooms of almost any kind, but it's a lot harder path to take.

Craig Aaron  08:44

And when you talk about something like foreign policy, national defense spending, these big important issues, the question is what kind of space is available for a range of opinions for in depth coverage?

Craig Aaron  09:01

And we have to remember one of the things that Bob McChesney, the professor who was a founder of Free Press, always taught me is you look at what are the stories that are cheap to cover? These are the stories that are cheap to cover: Political debate between partisans fighting with each other.

Craig Aaron  09:17

And you look at cable TV right now, it's a lot of people sitting on a stage. There'll be 12 people on a stage. All they'll argue about, often theater criticism of what happened in a given speech or given debate.

Craig Aaron  09:30

Actual reporting, actual in depth reporting is expensive. Maintaining bureaus in foreign countries is expensive but so necessary to understanding the world and for us seeing each other.

Craig Aaron  09:42

But we're at a moment in the United States where there are a lot of other countries with bigger Washington, DC, bureaus than represent most states, you know, maybe have one or two reporters even paying attention to a congressional delegation, whereas a country like Germany or Japan might have 50 journalists wandering around Washington right now.

Craig Aaron  10:03

These are all choices we have to make about how we're going to invest and what we're going to understand about the world and its danger.

Craig Aaron  10:10

And, you know, honestly, in some ways, it's amazing how much good reporting still gets through the system that is not necessarily designed to support it.

Craig Aaron  10:18

But by and large, these are not outlets set up to serve the broadest education of the public to take on complex stories. They prefer tighter, neater narratives, the kind of content that grabs eyeballs, but doesn't necessarily provide context. And often the kind of stories that are cheap to cover, but keep you tuned in. That's a lot of weather reports. That's crime coverage like reading from the police blotter.[12] That's not sophisticated coverage of international affairs or the complexity of something like nuclear weapons.

Craig Aaron  10:59

So these are the kinds of challenges I think we face as we talked about, what is the kind of system that we actually need? And what are the structures most likely to provide it?

Craig Aaron  11:09

These are the policy questions, ultimately, that we have to consider: What kind of system is most likely to produce a greater diversity of viewpoints, sustain more independent voices, give non-commercial and community media a chance to reach an audience, even though the current system is stacked against them?

Craig Aaron  11:29

That doesn't mean we can't also have for profit media. We can't look at other forms. But these are societal and democracy kind of choices of what kind of media are we going to invest in? And what kind of citizenry are we going to cultivate and nurture?

Citizen-directed subsidies for journalism[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  11:47

Yes, absolutely. Thank you very much. You talked about Robert McChesney, a co-founder. I'm a big fan of his, especially the observation that he and John Nichols made, talking about the the US Postal Service Act of 1792, which he claims and I absolutely agree, had a major impact, and allowing the United States to hang together and prosper and grow while contemporary New Spain, Mexico fractured, shrank and stagnated economically.

Spencer Graves  12:30

Under the US Postal Service Act of 1792 newspapers were delivered for a penny when first class postage was between six and 25 cents. This was a major citizen-directed subsidy for journalism. That was like 0.2 percent of GDP. It encouraged literacy and limited political corruption, both of which, as I said, allowed the United States to grow both in land area and economically, while contemporary New Spain and Mexico fractured, shrank and stagnated economically.

Spencer Graves  13:09

And McChesney and Nichols noted that 0.2 percent of GDP was around $100 or $120 a year per person.[13] Your comments?

Craig Aaron  13:27

I appreciate you raising the history, because I think this is one of the parts of American history that in some ways we need to reclaim. So often when you're talking about media policy, and what's the government's role going to be in the media, that's a debate that gets short circuited very quickly.

Craig Aaron  13:43

And people are rightfully anxious about the government playing a role that could somehow control content or dictate the narrative. Those are things we should be concerned about. Government censorship is a real issue. We have to pay attention to that.

Craig Aaron  13:58

But when it comes to structures and systems, what we have to recognize is there are going to be rules. There are going to be laws. The question is, who are they going to benefit?

Craig Aaron  14:09

And for the last 30 or 40 years, we've written laws to benefit the most powerful media corporations and encourage them to consolidate and move the wealth and opportunity into these powerful corporations.[11] But the lessons from the founding era of the country and well into the following century was a debate that started with well, should we just mail newspapers for free, or with an extremely heavy subsidy? And we went for the latter.

Craig Aaron  14:38

But it's a very different debate. As a result of that debate, newspapers were able to be shared all across the country. This is how abolitionist newspapers got into the South.[14] There were socialist newspapers next door to you in Kansas that had hundreds of thousands of readers, partly because of this postal subsidy.[15]

Craig Aaron  14:58

And it really nurtured a wide variety of outlets across the political spectrum, really encouraged localized public debate. I think these are the kinds of things we want to tap back into. It's gonna look different in an internet era, although we can certainly talk about postal subsidies.

International comparisons[edit | edit source]

Craig Aaron  15:19

But the notion that the government has a role to play in supporting a vibrant and healthy press is something I think we need to reclaim.

Craig Aaron  15:29

And I think you're sort of charting out: Yes, what would it look like if each of us individually had a subsidy that actually supported local and community media at a real and meaningful level? This is a country where we spend about $1.35 per capita to support public media, all of it in terms of federal spending.[16] So you're talking less than a cup of coffee these days a year, per capita. If that was even five or $10, we can completely transform the local media system. If it was $100. I mean, it's almost unfathomable.

Craig Aaron  16:07

But you could support an incredible array of local publications designed to serve different communities, supporting community radio outlets with the kind of technology and reach and, frankly, salaries that could match what the commercial media system can provide.

Decline of local news[edit | edit source]

Craig Aaron  16:25

And honestly, I'm just looking to live in a place where we can start to debate that seriously, because we're at one of these moments in American history, what Robert McChesney would call a critical juncture,[17] where we can see the writing on the wall of the commercial media system. Newspapers are in deep, deep trouble, even as we rely on them for the civic coverage that we get. They're in deep trouble as a commercial concern. Broadcast still makes a lot of money. But it's an open question. How far behind are they?

Craig Aaron  16:55

And we have to ask ourselves, do we just accept that? Do we just say that the spiral that is affecting the commercial media, which maybe didn't always do a great job, but certainly used to hire, employ a lot more reporters, do we just say, Oh, it's the modern era? We can't have that anymore?

Craig Aaron  17:09

Or do we actually come together and say, we need to invest in something else? And we need to ensure that our local communities actually have reporters on the beat? They're going to the school board meeting. They're going to the community meeting. They're actually going out into the community to serve people and to amplify community voices that have never been part of the mainstream media. That is something very much within our power to do.

Craig Aaron  17:33

And, yes, would it take a few billion dollars? Sure. We're about to have almost maybe a $2 trillion infrastructure package move here in the next few months. So a billion dollars is a lot of money. But if we had one less fighter jet, could we save local media? I don't know. I'm here for that conversation.

Spencer Graves  17:53

Right. Penny Abernathy is a professor I interviewed last fall. She was at that time Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, wrote a report where she said that since 2004, US newspapers have lost 70% of their advertising revenue. They've reduced the number of journalists by half. And a quarter of them have ceased publication. And the ones that continue to publish, most of them are publishing less, and some of them are publishing less frequently.[18]

Spencer Graves  18:46

And it is a fundamental threat to democracy, because there's research that says that when the quality of local news declines, fewer people vote, fewer politicians run for political office, they spend less money to get elected, and they don't work as hard and the cost of government for the citizens goes up.[19] Comment?

Craig Aaron  19:10

Yeah, that's right. I think all the research suggests that. It suggest they don't bring as much money back home. And I think this is where we need to be reframing this conversation about local news and media to look at journalism as a public good, at the idea that the benefits of journalism far outweigh even what the individual reader or subscriber gets, the spreading of news, the accountability when it comes to local government have huge societal value.

Craig Aaron  19:39

Having investigative reporters in communities being able to look out for corruption, reduces government corruption, leads to better elected officials.

Craig Aaron  19:49

These are all products of the media. Now, these also may be reasons that some politicians aren't interested in supporting local media.

Craig Aaron  19:55

But based on my conversations with a lot of folks here in Washington, there are also a lot of politicians that say things like, "Wow, when I ran for senate 15 years ago, there were three or four reporters following me around everywhere I went. Now, maybe there's one, but probably not." And that's a really big change.

Craig Aaron  20:16

So I think we are at one of these points where we have to look at, as you suggest, the full history of our media system, which was not always advertiser supported. That's sort of a historical anomaly. And just because car dealerships, or department stores don't need to advertise in the newspaper to reach their buyers anymore, doesn't diminish our need for local media.

Craig Aaron  20:41

If they're not providing it, I think we have a societal obligation to ask ourselves, well, how are we going to get it? And how are we going to pay for it?

Craig Aaron  20:51

Also, what do we really need? What is the kind of news media that would best serve our communities?

Craig Aaron  20:57

These are community questions. These are questions that communities need to answer for themselves.

Craig Aaron  21:02

At least the conversations I've been privileged to sit in on and listen to in various communities across the country, people want that local media. They rely on it.

Craig Aaron  21:12

Of course, they have critiques and concerns about it, as well. But mostly they want to see themselves reflected, and they want to hear their own voices.

Craig Aaron  21:20

I don't want to pretend that the good old days for journalism, even when they were making fat profit margins, were all that good for most people. They weren't. I got into this work almost 20 years ago, because of the failures of the media, the failures of the media to respond to the run up to the Iraq war, and other issues, including climate change, which we started talking about.

Craig Aaron  21:43

So it's not to just go back and try to put the genie back in the bottle. But it is to ask ourselves, which I think is increasingly happening, "What are we going to do to make sure that our democracy survives?"

Craig Aaron  21:56

We're at one of these points. We've experienced in very recent times, at least as recently as January 6, real questions about, "Is this democratic project sustainable?" And we have an opportunity to answer that affirmatively.

Craig Aaron  22:09

I think by taking a different look at how we fund and support our local media, looking at the kinds of public investment, we need to ensure there are reporters in every community actually going out there. And what happens when we invest in that kind of base level support really focused on community information needs, as opposed to just commercial needs or business models, starting from that point, I think changes the whole conversation.

Craig Aaron  22:38

But it makes a lot more possible. And I would argue it makes a lot more possible for those who want to make a commercial goal of it too, because they have a certain thing that they're good at and they're doing and they can provide.

Craig Aaron  22:49

I think there'll be always be a market for sports reporting, for example.

Craig Aaron  22:53

But our democracy requires that we also invest in this kinds of serious accountability journalism, investigative journalism, and honestly, basic community information.

Craig Aaron  23:06

I heard about a newspaper the other day that was literally publishing the form to get vaccinated against the coronavirus on their front page to simplify like, this is how you do it. This is the information you're going to need to register. Sometimes it's that basic. The kinds of information and I think those are the conversations increasingly we need to have with community about what media we need, which is a different conversation than, well, what is the market provide for?

Craig Aaron  23:38

What's the best business model? It is really about what our community needs? What kind of service do we need the media to provide? And how are we going to make sure the public investment is there to actually provide it?

Spencer Graves  23:50

Great. So in case you just joined us, we're talking with Craig Aaron, co-CEO of, a leading organization promoting media reform to improve democracy.

New Jersey Civic Information Consortium (NJCIC) and Freepress' News Voices[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  24:05

Just a little plug for Wikipedia: There's a Wikipedia article on Free Press (organization). I've made some minor edits there. And there's a major project that Free Press was involved in, the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium. And there's a Wikipedia article on there that I wrote based upon news reports from what Craig Aaron's organization has done. Tell us more about that, Craig.

Craig Aaron  24:36

Sure. Well, first of all, Spencer, thank you. Thank you for helping people know about this project. That means a lot. A couple years ago, we've been active in the state of New Jersey. It's an interesting state, because it is a state stuck between two major media markets in New York and Philadelphia, but without a lot of service, especially when it comes to broadcast media.

Craig Aaron  24:57

And we've been following that for a while looking for ways about how was news and information going to be provided in New Jersey. And we discovered a couple years ago that the FCC was about to auction off a bunch of very valuable airwaves that were being used by television stations, including several public TV stations are owned by the state of New Jersey. And we started a campaign urging them to take the money they were going to make the state was going to make in that auction and actually reinvested in local media.[20] At the time, Chris Christie was still the governor, and we weren't successful in getting that specific money.[21]

Craig Aaron  25:32

But we began to build out this idea of what would it look like for a state to invest in local media in new ways. And we wrote a bill and worked with some legislators to introduce it and eventually created this thing called the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, which passed into law a couple of years ago.

Craig Aaron  25:50

The basic idea is that it will invest public funds, state funds, in essentially a grant making body, a public trust, that's overseen by a board. The board has appointees from a variety ... . The house and the Senate of New Jersey and the governor get appointees as well as a consortium in partnership with five state universities in New Jersey. And they're now getting together. The initial investment is small: It's only $500,000. We started with $100 million. We got $500,000. This is the the nature of sausage making in government.[22]

Craig Aaron  26:27

But it is the first new investment in public media at the state level in, probably, decades. And what I'm so excited about it is because we've now got an active board. They're going to begin making grants. And the idea is that universities partner with local outlets, or newly created institutions, and seek grants to support reporting projects that are designed to be community focused. And within the next couple of months we're going to be in a position to give out the first grants from the consortium and build the case for greater state support and also look at ways for philanthropy to get involved in supporting this.

Craig Aaron  27:07

But I have to tell you, the experience of putting this bill together. I think it's the only time I literally have lobbied. Like, we stood in a lobby and tried to grab legislators as they went by to tell them about this idea. It was unbelievably encouraging, because we got into these conversations about how state government's not covered by local media anymore, about the needs that local communities have. We ended up going to every county in the state and talking to people about their local media and their needs and desires.

Craig Aaron  27:39

And it's really helped shape a program that I think could do a lot of good and could be replicable in other places. Whether that's state investment, federal investment, it is the kind of community led effort, and again, bipartisan: It passed with clear, strong bipartisan majorities in the state of New Jersey. And I think is an example of the kind of creative policymaking we could do in other places to actually focus on the needs of local media. New Jersey was right for it. Because there are a lot of people agitated about the failure, especially of TV and radio, to serve the state of New Jersey.

Craig Aaron  28:14

But it's obviously not the only place. You talked about the news desert studies.[23] A lot of people are experiencing this. And we've found a lot of interest and enthusiasm in other states and with legislators, who are thinking about what could our states do to actually support local media?

Craig Aaron  28:30

And I think the Civic Info Consortium is a good model, not the only model, but a good model to consider for how we could sustain local media across the country. If we had a Civic Info Consortium in every state, we could move a lot of money to the kinds of community oriented grassroots journalism that communities need, and that community residents say again and again that they actually want.

Spencer Graves  28:56

Great, Craig. Do you have some suggestions for what we might do here in Kansas City to try to push an agenda like that?

Craig Aaron  29:12

Well, I think, like so many of these problems, they're organizing problems. Right?

Craig Aaron  29:16

I think the first step is beginning to talk about who's interested? What would it take? One of the reasons we were able to succeed in New Jersey -- our original concept didn't have five universities involved. But that was key to moving it through a state legislature was the investment from higher education. That was a big learning moment.

Craig Aaron  29:37

I think it can be a relatively small group. Like any kind of change, a relatively small group of dedicated folks, who want to see it happen. And the kind of commitment to actually go out in community and have conversations about what's needed.

Craig Aaron  29:52

So what's needed in Kansas City may be different than what's needed in Newark. It would be about going and figuring that out.

Craig Aaron  29:59

Philanthropy matters. That helped us go and deploy organizers in a state like New Jersey. We were able to raise a little bit of money, enough to hire someone to spend all their time working in New Jersey. Getting that kind of person, who can work and do that, and then coordinate with volunteers, build relationships. I think that's key.

Craig Aaron  30:17

But honestly, the lesson we found in New Jersey was, it's kind of amazing how few people in some ways it can take if they're committed and focused, to actually being able to move through ideas.

Craig Aaron  30:29

And I think the initial response was, well, this will never happen, right? I mean, that's what we heard at every turn. Like, sure, this is an interesting idea. But this will probably never happen. All the way up until we were counting votes on the floor of the New Jersey Legislature.

Craig Aaron  30:42

So I think things are very possible. I could be state models. There are some interesting municipal ideas around what does it mean to do at the city level. Could you look at city bond issues to fund and support local media? Could you look at other kinds of more place based voucher systems that you could look at? And I think there are interesting models that you can look all across the country.

Craig Aaron  31:03

We're doing some work in Colorado right now. And looking there. You know, it's really interesting. We learned, all the art museums around Denver are supported by a local tax that was instituted years ago. And the surrounding counties pay it. And they now have this really rich cultural scene. Twenty years ago, the art museum was opened, like two days a week because they were running out of money.

Craig Aaron  31:29

These are the kinds of creative ideas that we start to bring together community folks are interested and want to talk about it. We can get creative about what's the kind of solution that could fit and work in a place like Kansas City. I would need need the time and local intelligence to know what's possible in a state legislature? What's possible in the city council? In terms of new models? Absolutely. There are a lot of different options, and increasingly a network of people across the country who are saying we need something new.

Percent correct answers in surveys of knowledge of domestic and international politics vs. per capita subsidies for public media in the Denmark (DK), Finland (FI), the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US). Source: The "politicalKnowledge" data set in the "Ecdat" package available on the Comprehensive R Archive Network, based on research cited by McChesney and Nichols (2010).

Spencer Graves  32:05

As a point of reference, we were talking about McChesney: We were talking about a goal of $100 per person per year. And in fact, that's about what Scandinavia spends.[24]

Craig Aaron  32:20

And it ranks much higher on the international rankings of thriving democracies.

Spencer Graves  32:26

I think there's I think there's a reason for that. In one of their books they show that surveys of public affairs knowledge in the US is well below that of the UK that spends half what Scandinavia does. And the UK is well below Scandinavia.

Spencer Graves  32:49

But just as a dollar check, your half a million dollars in New Jersey comes out to be six cents per person if I did my math right.

Spencer Graves  33:01

By comparison, there's an investigative journalism organization in South Africa called amaBhungane. It's like Zulu, which is the primary indigenous language of South Africa. It means dung beetle. And so they proudly are digging dung to fertilize democracy.

Spencer Graves  33:23

And on a budget of basically a penny per person US, they forced the resignation a couple of years ago of President Zuma of South Africa for corruption.[25]

Spencer Graves  33:38

So even a budget of six cents per person might be quite useful. And we can we can get that fairly easily.

Advertising as a percent of gross domestic product in the United States, 1919 to 2007, per Douglas Galbi

Spencer Graves  33:49

I think if we think about advertising, being 2% of GDP. And Keith is telling me, I ought to give giving him time for a station break. So we'll go to a station break, and we'll come back and continue this conversation in a moment.

[KKFI station break]  34:14

Katrina Y. Robertson, LLC. Civil Rights, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environments, race, gender and age discrimination. Learn more at Thanks for listening to KKFI. Be sure to like and follow your community radio station at KKFI, 901 FM

Spencer Graves  35:06

Again, this is Spencer Graves, I'm your host on KKFI. I'm interviewing Craig Aaron, co-CEO of And we're talking about what can be done locally to improve the media. We've noticed that democracy dies in darkness: As the quality of local news goes declines, the cost of government goes up.

Spencer Graves  35:39

Why don't you talk to us a bit more about some of your other initiatives? Do you think it would be smart for us to try to reach out to a local university or just try to lobby politicians or what?

Craig Aaron  35:54

Well, my theory there is you have to go all of the above.

Craig Aaron  35:57

I think the way you build support for this kind of project is talking to as many people as possible.

Craig Aaron  36:02

I never would have expected the League of Municipalities in New Jersey to be my ally on this. They were. Rutgers University, when we started, wasn't on board. By the time we were done, they were talking about maybe wanting to host the whole project.

Craig Aaron  36:19

So I think you have to talk to a lot of people.

Craig Aaron  36:21

And I think this is an interesting moment, because so many people are increasingly recognizing the role in the media in all these questions and are more open to creative approaches and solutions.

Craig Aaron  36:34

So you talk about advertising. My colleague, Timothy Karr, and I wrote a paper a year or so ago, floating the idea of taxing targeted online advertising. You know, a lot of money that has been swept up by Facebook and Google used to go to local media. What does it look like if we tax those ads, those ads that are profiting off of tracking us where we go online? And we estimated based on revenues a 2%, tax could generate $2 billion to support local media.[26]

Craig Aaron  37:05

So it's a relatively small tax on something like advertising that people have some feelings about for good reasons -- profits made by companies that aren't paying very many taxes. How about we actually say, "Yeah, let's tax them"? And let's reinvest that in cleaning up the mess they've helped make of our civic discourse.

Craig Aaron  37:26

I think those are the kinds of ideas and I know, we got some questions about what's happening in Congress right now. And I think that's an open question. I think we're beginning to debate these ideas, things that were impossible to conceive pre pandemic, pre Biden administration are suddenly newly possible.

Craig Aaron  37:48

You know, the president just proposed $100 billion in support for broadband expansion. That's certainly connected to people's ability to get news and information. It's a big step in the right direction.

Craig Aaron  38:00

What does it look like for us to supplement that with money invested in local media? I know there are members of Congress talking about that.

Craig Aaron  38:10

There's a there's a bill introduced to study the future of local news that Senator Schatz from Hawaii and Senator Bennet from Colorado put forward. There have been a number of measures to make sure local media as part of economic recovery,

Craig Aaron  38:25

I think we need to go bigger. I hope that we'll see some proposals see the light of day here in the months ahead to actually invest at the kind of levels that are needed or at least to start down that road and how we actually move federal money down to the local level in real ways.

Craig Aaron  38:44

For years, it's been a defensive fight: How do we just maintain this tiny bit of funding that public media gets?

Craig Aaron  38:51

It's time for us to really go on the offense and really address the collapse of local news in a way that builds support.

Craig Aaron  39:00

And based on the all the conversations I'm having on Capitol Hill these days, I think there is new energy and interest among legislators to try to figure out how they might do that.

Craig Aaron  39:10

We're not there yet. It's not a bill ready to pass. But there are a whole lot of conversations and a whole lot of things being explored. And I take that as a positive sign, because honestly until last year it had been a good decade since I'd heard any real serious discussions in Washington about the kinds of policies needed to address the crisis in local news.

Pending legislation[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  39:33

So we did have a question from someone. This is, by the way, being carried live on KKFI, 90.1 FM, Kansas City Community Radio, as well as a Zoom session and YouTube Live.

Spencer Graves  39:53

And someone asked if there is any pending legislation? And I gather you're saying no, there's not?

Craig Aaron  40:03

Well, I think there is legislation being developed. I can't point to a bill number yet. I'm in conversations all the time. I would say that the opportunity is coming. I think is what I would say.

Craig Aaron  40:14

So we are in a political moment, where there is about to be a massive investment in infrastructure as is needed if we're going to get out of this economic downturn to meet the nature of the crisis that we're in right now as a country. I know that proposal already includes a lot of support for broadband expansion. That's a good step.

Craig Aaron  40:36

I think that the fight over the next few months as that legislation moves is trying to get something in there that will also include support for for journalism. The proposals aren't yet public from the new leaders of the House and Senate Committees that are really focused on this topic. But I think they're coming. And I hope that they're good.

Craig Aaron  41:01

Not every piece of legislation that's been proposed is good. I think some of them are really geared to serve the existing dominant corporate media.

Craig Aaron  41:10

But the conversation we should be having -- and we've written extensively about this in papers and other things at Free Press. I published an article in Columbia Journalism Review last year calling for the kinds of multi million, multi billion dollar investments that are needed to actually support our local media system.[27]

Craig Aaron  41:27

I think that's getting a new hearing in Washington. And the work ahead for folks like me, and then that I'll be calling back to ask for people to get behind, is the kind of proposals that would actually help workers in newsrooms that we know are going to actually get down to the actual workers who are out there on the beat, keep them at their desks, and start to begin to build a bridge to the kind of transitions we need, the kind of non-commercial media system.

Craig Aaron  41:54

There's a lot of points of intervention we could look at that would support a healthy media system. I think that's a debate we're starting to have. The House Antitrust Subcommittee held a hearing a couple weeks ago. It was one of the first hearings in recent memory to really tackle this question of how can Congress get at these questions of local news. I see new coalition's emerging.

Craig Aaron  42:17

So I'm newly optimistic, even though I don't have an introduced piece of legislation that I can say, "Call your representative and get behind it tomorrow." But I hope that by the next time we talk, that'll be something we can actually talk about.

Spencer Graves  42:32

Wonderful. So the $2 billion you mentioned from the 2% tax on ads by major internet companies comes out, if I have my calculations correct, to be roughly $6 per person per year. That's compared to the six cents per person to the New Jersey Civic Information and the $100 per year that McChensey and Nichols recommend and that is common in Scandinavia.

Spencer Graves  43:11

By comparison, I've done some analysis. I'm concerned that the US Postal Service Act subsidies that were two tenths of a percent of GDP got swamped by advertising that in the 20th century came in at roughly 2% of GDP. And so that's like $1,200 per person per year.[28]

Local governments[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  43:45

But even without that if we can get a local government to commit to match what it spends on either accounting or on media and public relations, that can come out to something like $50 a year or $10, or something on the order of what you are recommending?[29] Comments?

Craig Aaron  44:16

Yeah, I think there's a lot of ways you could go at it. I've mentioned some local efforts looking at bond issues, like the equivalent of a library bond issue that could be used to support local media.

Craig Aaron  44:29

I love the idea. There is some legislation being developed in the house right now, bipartisan legislation, actually, that talks about providing individuals with a tax credit for subscribing. That's one way to do it.

Craig Aaron  44:46

I prefer opportunities where there's a pool of money and local residents can vote in support of distributing money to the outlets of their choices. I think that's a model to look at.

Craig Aaron  44:58

So I think there are a lot of ways to do it. The key is, I think, establishing that trust of money, a baseline kind of support. That could come through taxation or direct appropriations to try to set aside money so that it is not subject to the sort of political whims of one administration or one Congress but can actually be spent out over time. That's certainly how it's done in other countries, though, of course in many places they're supported, like the BBC for example, comes through a television tax. You have a television: You pay money. It goes to the BBC. You get coverage all over the world.

Craig Aaron  45:27

So that's the kind of media I'm interested in creating. It can live alongside these other kinds of media that we have. But we should not be settling for what CNN or MSNBC or Fox News has decided to give us as news. Certainly, that kind of news is by and large not designed to actually support an informed citizenry or local needs. And I think that's where our focus from a policy perspective really needs to be.

Craig Aaron  45:37

I see a question here in the chat about small local media and large news networks. I think for me, the media that I'm most concerned about is the media that's been lost, that can actually speak to what's happening at the local level. That's hiring reporters to go out and cover what's happening at the city level, at the school board meetings, just in community. And I think that's the media that we have lost.

Craig Aaron  46:11

The large news networks are going to continue to do their thing. But very often that thing is not really about keeping people informed. Maybe it's about watching what the president says one day to the next and covering elections broadly, things like that.

Craig Aaron  46:26

But very rarely is that trickling back down to the local level. Certainly, age old complaints, though there are a lot of great local TV reporters out there, you know, about the ability of local TV to cover to cover local community. I'm focused as a policy matter on the local, because I think that's the sort of democracy sustaining media we need to be paying attention to, the kind of media that should be although it isn't always grounded in community, owned locally, answerable to local community, about the job it's doing to serve the community.

Craig Aaron  47:03

There always, obviously, will be a need, and a desire to get the kind of national information where all we care about what we do as a country. There are big questions that the national media is better equipped to cover.

Craig Aaron  47:17

But ultimately, I think what's gone missing and the real danger from a democratic perspective, is losing the local and is even losing the kind of local media that connects to the national, where we no longer have members of Congress being covered really at home, where they live, and what they're doing.

Craig Aaron  47:39

I lived outside Washington DC. Yes, there's plenty of reporters sitting at the White House. There's a lot fewer sitting at the Department of Agriculture or the Commerce Department or other parts of the government, the Defense Department even that need reporters, asking tough questions, and, frankly, need reporters asking questions who themselves then have to be answerable to a local constituency.

Spencer Graves  48:37

Absolutely. Media organizations everywhere sell changes in audience behavior to the people who give them money. If they do not have an audience, they have nothing to sell. If the audience does not change behavior to please the people who give them money, they take the money elsewhere.

Spencer Graves  49:00

That's for me why it's so important to have citizen-directed subsidies for media: To put the citizenry back into the driver's seat on that score.

Incarcerations and income inequality[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  49:21

You mentioned a bit earlier about the police blotter. One of my favorite examples is incarceration rate in the United States that was stable at a 10th of a percent of the US population for the 50 years between 1925 and 1975. And then it shot up by a factor of five in the last quarter of the 20th century. And the research I've seen, that I found most persuasive says that that was driven by changes in the editorial policy of the mainstream commercial broadcasters to fire nearly all the investigative journalists and replace them with the police blotter.

Spencer Graves  50:07

So the public thought that crime was out of control when there had been no substantive change in crime. They voted in a generation of politicians dedicated to getting tough on crime. And so they incarcerated mostly more black and brown bodies.

Spencer Graves  50:28

And by the way, the time that started was also about the time income inequality in the United States started to increase. Everybody benefited from productivity growth from in the post World War Two era until about 1970 or 1980. And since then, the ultra wealthy have taken the lion's share of the of the benefits from productivity growth. Comments?

Craig Aaron  51:02

Well, I think that we know the media played an incredible role in the growth of it. They weren't the only factor. Certainly, we can or cannot get into the history of reactionary and right wing politics in this country.

Craig Aaron  51:17

But the media played along and in very dangerous ways that scapegoated and stereotyped huge parts of the country, presented stories of black and brown people almost exclusively in a criminal context, took the context out of those criminal stories.

Craig Aaron  51:36

So the thing about relying on the police blotter or the police as your only source for a story is that that's cheap. That's easy to do. It's constantly a source of content.

Craig Aaron  51:46

And it's much harder than serious reporting on wealth inequality, or serious reporting on a given community, or frankly, even telling the actual stories of strong local communities, good things happening in communities. That involves having reporters out there going out, building relationships, and talking to people. Getting something reported out from the local precinct or police headquarters, that's a lot easier to do.

Craig Aaron  52:15

And there was sort of this symbiotic relationship created between police and the press that I don't think has served us well.

Craig Aaron  52:22

So I do think this is one of the areas -- as we talk about reforming the media, as we talk about larger changes in society, and we are in the midst of a massive social movement, in terms of Black Lives Matter and its related offshoots to really reckon with how black and brown lives, especially black lives, have been devalued in this country.

Craig Aaron  52:44

And the media must be a big part of that reckoning.

Craig Aaron  52:48

We've actually just started a project in the city of Philadelphia with a set of community groups and some researchers at Rutgers and University of Pennsylvania to really look at this question of what does it look like to change the crime and criminal justice narrative? What does it look like to not just show people's mug shots? And leave them up forever whether or not they've actually been convicted of a crime? What does it look like in the words and language choices we use to describe those who've been incarcerated or arrested? And most importantly, what does it look like to treat law enforcement as skeptically as we treat community sources, as we treat nonprofit sources?[30]

Craig Aaron  53:30

You don't have to look very deep into the headlines in this moment to find examples of law enforcement sources not telling the truth. It's a pretty easy thing to find.

Craig Aaron  53:41

And there is a reckoning in the news media to say, when do we ask the tough questions? When do we go back and double check? How do we actually report out these stories? Those are big questions.

Craig Aaron  53:56

The only stories you can get into a newspaper or on TV that are single sourced are when an official source like the police are giving you the quote. These are the kinds of things I think we need to wrestle within our media system.

Craig Aaron  54:10

And I am beginning to see this within newsrooms and from communities putting demands on newsrooms. These are one of the key areas where things need to change.

Craig Aaron  54:21

This is also where social movements are so important. The reasoning this reckoning is happening in newsrooms right now is because of all the great organizing that happened, especially among Black Lives Matter leaders and organizers, immigrant, undocumented folks organizing that have forced change within newsrooms themselves that we're just beginning to see. But I think that this is the conversation we need to have. And it is a big shift for the media as they recognize they need to play a different role that isn't arm's length and distant and just looking down on their perch from a big building downtown on the city they're supposed to be covering, but is actually being accountable and responsive to the communities they're supposed to serve.

Craig Aaron  55:03

That's the kind of media we need. I think we're beginning to see the seeds of that kind of shift. But there is still a lot of work to do.

Craig Aaron  55:14

And a lot of people who aren't interested in doing the work, that are interested in scapegoating black and brown communities, that are interested in misinforming. And those kinds of media outlets, starting with Fox News, but including the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, and many, many more, we have to demand that kind of accountability there as well. Because those are the kinds of outlets that have really worked hard to divide and scapegoat and encourage, hand in hand with Donald Trump and the dominant forces today in the Republican Party, with scapegoating black and brown communities and trying to "other" them, and trying to convince people to blame their neighbors for problems that have a lot more to do with the greed and mendacity of political leadership and corporate leadership than anything to do with these communities just trying to create better lives for themselves and their children.

Antisocial media and national security[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  56:08

Right. So just right quick, I want to, I shouldn't start another conversation. But I do want to mention, there's a book called Antisocial Media: How Facebook disconnects us -- I forgotten the exact title, but it's something like "How Facebook disconnects us and threatens democracy."[31] Lieutenant General McMaster, who was President Trump's second National Security Adviser says that the Russians have used Facebook to polarize the body politic and the United States and our allies to weaken us.[32]

Spencer Graves  56:44

And I think he's absolutely correct on that and we've got the January 6 insurrection to back that up.

Acknowledgments[edit | edit source]

Spencer Graves  56:53

And I think sadly, we're basically out of time. We've been talking with Craig Aaron, co-CEO of[1] Keith Washburn[33] is at the controls. Bob Grove[8] has been managing the Zoom connection and the YouTube Live connection. This interview was promoted also by the Climate Council of Greater Kansas City of which Bob Grove is the President,[4] Our Revolution Kansas City,[5] Peaceworks Kansas City,[7] and Friends of Community Media.[6]

Discussion[edit | edit source]

The above interview mentioned the following as possible funding models for news:

In addition, a 2019 report on "Protecting Journalism in the Age of Digital Platforms" claimed that only "$50 per US adult is likely to be sufficient."[34]

Also, under Seattle's "Democracy Voucher" program, each registered voter has gotten four $25 vouchers, totaling $100, which they could give to eligible candidates running for municipal office. However, only the first 47,000 were honored; this limited the city's commitment to $4.7 million every other year.[35] If Seattle can afford $100 per registered voter, many other governmental entities can afford something very roughly comparable for each adult in their jurisdiction.

Accountants and Auditors as a percent of US households

As a model for an appropriate level of funding for citizen-directed subsidies for research, we might consider how much society spends on accounting and auditing. Most government agencies account for expenditures to the last penny, while the accounting for results rarely gets more than lip service. The accompanying plot of “Accountants and Auditors as a percent of US households” shows households including someone employed as an accountant or auditor increasing from 0.013 percent of households in 1850 to 1.3 percent in 2006 and since.[36] It's not clear what accounting and auditing is as a percent of GDP, but if they are 1.3 percent of households, they be close to that as a percent of the workforce. Moreover, they are highly skilled and probably receive higher than average compensation. For present purposes, we will guess that they might represent roughly 2 percent of US GDP. That number could easily be off by 50 percent -- one percentage point -- but probably not off by a factor of 3. If we need a more accurate number number, we can research this issue further.

Figure 2. Real US GDP per capita in thousands of 2012 dollars with annual percentage growth in 5 epocs (1790 - 1929 - 1933 - 1945 - 1947 - 2021).

Finally, 2 percent of GDP may sound like a lot of money and perhaps more than is needed. However, it essentially matches the average growth in average annual income in the US (GDP per capita, adjusted for inflation) between 1947 and 2019. If it manages to limit political corruption in ways that increase that average rate of economic growth by 0.1 percentage point, from 2 percent to 2.1 percent, after 20 years these subsidies for journalism essentially become free from that point forward, paid in perpetuity out of income we would not have without that investment in journalism.[37]

The following table summarizes the level of funding suggested for the different alternatives discussed above:

option % of GDP US$ per …
McChesney & Nichols 0.2% $100 .00 person & year [13]
Rolnik et al. 0.06% $50 .00 adult & year [34]
Democracy vouchers 0.006% $100 .00 voter & municipal election for the first 47,000 [35]
advertising 2% $1,300 .00 person & year [28]
accounting 2% $1,300 .00 person & year [36]
average annual improvement in productivity 2% $1,300 .00 person & year [37]
NJCIC 0.00008% $0 .06 person & year [22]
amaBhungane 0.00008% $0 .01 person & year in South Africa [25]
Free Press 0.01% $6 .00 person & year [26]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Penny Abernathy (2020), News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers: Will local news survive?, University of North Carolina Press, Wikidata Q100251717.
  • Robert W. McChesney; John Nichols (2016). People get ready: The fight against a jobless economy and a citizenless democracy (in en). Bold Type Books. Wikidata Q87619174. ISBN 978-1-56858-521-5. .

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Craig Aaron, Wikidata Q104624986
  2. 2.0 2.1 Thursday Night Special, KKFI, Wikidata Q98781347.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Spencer Graves, Wikidata Q56452480.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Climate Council of Greater Kansas City, Wikidata Q100166732.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Our Revolution Kansas City, Missouri, Wikidata Q106066014.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Friends of Community Media, Wikidata Q100167560
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 PeaceWorks Kansas City, Wikidata Q64287449.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bob Grove, Wikidata Q106864469.
  9. e.g., w:2021 storming of the United States Capitol.
  10. "Time to nuclear Armageddon" contains an estimate of 40% of a nuclear war in the next 70 years. Life expectancy worldwide today is a little over 70 years. I think the 40% is an underestimate. I think it's probably over 50%, and moreover when it comes, the lives of nearly everyone who was not directly affected would be disrupted and shortened by nuclear fallout and a resulting major disruption of the weather the world over in ways that would most likely reduce the amount of food available. See also Time to extinction of civilization.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Rolnik et al. (2019) insist that media consolidation in the US is a major problem.
  12. The United States incarceration rate increased by a factor of five in the last quarter of the twentieth century to approximately 0.5 percent of the US population after having been relatively steady at roughly 0.1 percent for the previous 50 years. Sacco and others insist that this increase was a product of changes in the editorial policies of the mainstream commercial broadcasters. See the discussion below plus Vincent F. Sacco (2005), When Crime Waves, SAGE Publishing, Wikidata Q96344789, Vincent F. Sacco (May 1995). "Media Constructions of Crime". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 539 (1): 141-154. doi:10.1177/0002716295539001011. Wikidata Q56805896. ISSN 0002-7162. , and Constructing Crime: Perspectives on Making News and Social Problems (in en). Waveland Press. 1998. Wikidata Q96343487. ISBN 0-88133-984-9. .
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 McChesney and Nichols (2016, esp. p. 167). NOTE: $100 = 0.2 percent of $50,000. The actual GDP per capita in current dollars was approximately $57,000 in 2015 and $65,000 in 2019, according to Johnston and Williamson (2021). This would make current 0.2% of current GDP Per Capita closer to $130.
  14. However, many Southern postmasters refused to deliver abolitionist newspapers, and prior to the Civil War, the Postmaster General of the US agreed they were not required to do so. See w:Abolitionism#The South after 1804.
  15. "Socialist newspapers in Kansas". Kansas Historical Society. Wikidata Q106883345. . See also Julius Wayland, who published Appeal to Reason (newspaper), whose "paid circulation exceeded "half a million by 1910, making it the largest-circulation socialist newspaper in American history".
  16. Robert W. McChesney (2014). Blowing the Roof off the Twenty-Frist Century: Media, Politics, and the struggle for post-capitalist democracy (in en). Monthly Review Press. Wikidata Q106879339. ISBN 978-1-58367-478-9. , ch. 1, charts 7-8 and footnote 123, ch. 4. chart 1..
  17. Robert W. McChesney (2007). Communication Revolution: Critical junctures and the future of the media (in en). The New Press. Wikidata Q106883948. ISBN 978-1-59558-207-2. 
  18. Abernathy (2020, esp. pp. 41, 21, 15).
  19. Joshua Benton (9 April 2019). "When local newspapers shrink, fewer people bother to run for mayor". Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Wikidata Q63127216. .
  20. Timothy Karr (29 November 2016). "Our Last, Best Chance to Reinvent Local News". Moyers on Democracy. Wikidata Q106145515. .
  21. For a discussion of the actual sale without reference to the NJCIC, see Samantha Marcus (14 April 2017). "N.J. just made a huge deal to sell 2 public television stations". Wikidata Q106145869. .
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Timothy Karr (30 September 2020), New Jersey Funds the Civic Info Consortium, Recognizes the Vital Role Local News Plays During Crises, Free Press, Wikidata Q106146745. Per w:New Jersey the Gross State Product in 2018 was roughly $640 billion; it's population in 2020 was roughly 9.3 million. $500,000 = 0.00008% of $640 billion.
  23. Abernathy (2020).
  24. McChesney and Nichols (2010, ch. 1, charts 7-8 and footnote 123, ch. 4. chart 1).
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 w:AmaBhungane#Budget, accessed 2021-05-06.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Timothy Karr (26 February 2019), Free Press Calls for Tax on Targeted Ads to Fund Civic-Minded Journalism, Free Press, Wikidata Q106489052. Timothy Karr; Craig Aaron (February 2019), Beyond Fixing Facebook (PDF), Free Press, Wikidata Q104624308.
  27. Craig Aaron (24 March 2020). "Journalism Needs a Stimulus. Here’s What it Should Look Like". Columbia Journalism Review. Wikidata Q106902475. ISSN 0010-194X. .
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 File:Advertising as a percent of Gross Domestice Product in the United States.svg. For GDP per capita, see Johnston and Williamson (2021).
  29. Local governments in the US are roughly 10 percent of GDP.  Two percent of that is 0.2 percent, which matches what was spent by the US Postal Service Act of 1792.
  30. Timothy Karr (22 June 2020). "Local Social-Justice Groups and Community Leaders Set Forth Guidelines for Transforming the Philadelphia Inquirer". Free Press. Wikidata Q106904575. .
  31. Siva Vaidhyanathan (12 June 2018). Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy (in en). Oxford University Press. Wikidata Q56027099. ISBN 978-0-19-084118-8. ..
  32. H. R. McMaster (2020). Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World (in en). HarperCollins. Wikidata Q104774898. ISBN 978-0-06-289948-4. .
  33. Keith Washburn, Wikidata Q106904915.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Rolnik et al. (2019). Per w:Demographics of the United States 24% of the US population is under 18, so adults are 76% of the population. However, US GDP per capita in $65,000 in 2019 in current dollars, so $50 per adult would be roughly 0.06% of GDP.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Russell Berman (10 November 2015). "Seattle's Experiment With Campaign Funding". The Atlantic. Wikidata Q106489592. ISSN 1072-7825. . The Wikipedia article on w:Seattle says that the gross metropolitan product (GMP) for the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area was $231 billion in 2010 for a population of 3,979,845. That makes the GMP per capita roughly $58,000. However, the population of Seattle proper was only 608,660 in 2010, making the Gross City Product roughly $35 billion. $4.7 million is 0.0133 percent of $35 billion. However, that's very other year, so it's really only 0.006 percent of the Gross City Product.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Extracted from Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS).
  37. 37.0 37.1 US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, accessed 2021-05-19. A similar point is made about the impact of improving education by Eric Hanushek; Paul E. Peterson; Ludger Woessmann (2013). Endangering prosperity: A global view of the American school (in en). Brookings Institution Press. Wikidata Q56849246. ISBN 978-0-8157-0373-0. , p. 12.