I am actually really interested to learn the perspectives of our European and Scandinavian classmates. It seems that funding for public media in those countries is much more robust. As of 2011, U.S. per capita spending on public media was just $4. The federal government funds the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which in turn gives money to organizations like National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service.
The federal allocations support broadcast TV and radio stations on the state and local level. Much of the funding is used for operations, while some is dedicated specifically to programming. There are places in my home state that really receive no commercial attention from broadcasters (extremely low population density in poor, rural areas). Without OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting) radio and television stations, these people would receive even less information. And there have been a few big wins. NPR — only 5.8% of NPR funding is from the federal government — is known for quality, consistent journalism that does hold those in power accountable for their actions. PBS, on the other hand, is known for robust children's "E/I" (educational and informational) programming (under the brand name PBS Kids).
Studies have shown that more robust public funding creates better engagement and more diverse programming.
Journalism in the United States is a largely commercial enterprise, which means it is subject to the competence of its leadership and growth of the economy. For many decades, dual revenue streams made newspapers an easy, largely family, business. We don't need to rehash the mistakes of our forbears but stagnation has created a crumbling industry. As the fourth estate, journalism is too important to crumble. And E/I content is too important to the literacy rate in the U.S. to evaporate.
In undergrad, I was the editor of my college newspaper (student journalism at a public institution is another conversation). We ran news stories, but - as a daily newspaper in a small town - we also ran movie reviews, travel stories, opinion pieces, etc. One of my reviewers had a meal at a local Mexican restaurant. It was bad, though probably nothing compared to Mexican food in NYC (I can't find a good burrito here). We ran the review. Mexico Boulevard was our biggest advertiser. They pulled their advertising and, in a penny-pinching economy, we were beholden to them. I opted not to retract the review and we lost their advertising (about 15% of annual revenue).
Federal, state and local funding for news, emergency broadcasting and E/I is critically important. Journalism can't thrive when the function is threatened by the funding. I wish the U.S. provided more funding for public broadcasting and news gathering, but continued to stay uninvolved in the product created. I would note that the heavy involvement of the U.S. government in granting licenses for broadcasting stations has affected the quality and tone of content.