The Case for a Journalism Tithe

Not a literal 10 percent—but the long Christian tradition of patronage of truth-seeking writers and artists is worth preserving.

American journalism experienced a minor apocalypse in January.

The Los Angeles Times laid off more than 20 percent of its newsroom. Time cut 15 percent and Business Insider 8 percent. The Wall Street Journal laid off 20 people in its DC bureau. Sports Illustrated laid off so many people that it is expected to close entirely. Pitchfork, also subject to mass layoffs, already closed up shop as an independent outlet and will now exist as a subsection of GQ. And a news startup called The Messenger shut down entirely, after just a year in existence—though in that case, where $50 million in investments produced just $3 million in revenue, the story may be less about journalism than about simple mismanagement.

All told, more than 500 journalism positions went away last month, continuing a two-decade trend of industry contraction. Jobs and entire outlets are falling left and right—last year, an average of 2.5 newspapers shut down every week in the United States—and there’s no reason to think they’re coming back. Journalists can be hyperbolic and unduly self-flattering when talking about the decline of our industry, but it really is shrinking at a remarkable rate.

Still, I say January’s apocalypse was “minor” because this is but one round of many. A few months prior, it was The Washington Post shedding jobs. It’s always happening somewhere. Even a multi-outlet layoff and shutdown blitz like this one is but the sounding of a single trump. There will be more. In fact, as Post columnist Perry Bacon Jr. recently argued, it may not be too soon to say journalism will never be broadly profitable again.

I’m still hopeful that we’ll figure out a new business model, one that works …

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