NEWT GINGRICH, THE NEXT speaker of the House, intends to change public broadcasting.

This is good.There are things about it that need changing.

Gingrich has announced that he will do the job by eliminating federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is getting $285.6 million in tax money in the current fiscal year and distributes 90 percent of it to about 1,000 public television stations and groups.

I think he will eventually conclude that this is not the way to get the change he wants.

Two things about public broadcasting bother many Americans, not just conservatives.

First, government should not be in broadcasting unless it provides necessary services that the market does not deliver.

Second, some public programming, especially from National Public Radio and a number of big-city stations, reveals instances of bias - mostly, but not exclusively, a liberal bias in covering social problems.

Usually these are such hot-button issues as crime, religion, race and abortion. Zeroing out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would solve neither problem.

As for economics, most public broadcasting originates not in big cities but in smaller communities.

Most stations are less like New York's or Chicago's than they are like WVMR, a radio station in Dunsmore, W.Va., that offers local programming that no commercial station would consider: lost-dog ads, funeral announcements, school closings, junior high sports broadcasts.

The small stations depend more on the federal stipends they receive than do the larger ones. The overall federal contribution to stations' budgets ranges from 4 percent to 40 percent, but generally the smaller the station, the bigger the subsidy.

Thus, small stations are the most likely to be killed by the disappearance of federal financing.

Public broadcasting does what the market does not in another important way. It provides superior cultural and children's programs free.

There is lots of talk about how commercial television can do these things, but it is mostly talk. In its feature-length morning and late-afternoon news programs, listeners to public radio get more diverse news, debate and commentary than they can get from the 10-second sound bites of commercial radio.

So far, commercial television has proved less willing than the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to take the risks entailed in developing ambitious programs, and it does not provide the depth of good children's television that public broadcasting does.

The nation's well-being depends on a certain level of literacy and common culture in the population - something Gingrich understands quite well.

Both those "commodities" are in scarce supply.

When the government makes its small contribution to public broadcasting, these are the social benefits it provides. The cost is not irrational or disproportionate.

The money we give public broadcasting helps ensure its accountability. Remove federal funds and you remove officials' ability to influence the system. Such withdrawal would be irresponsible, and I do not think it is what Gingrich wants.