In today’s “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” news, it was reported loudly at in the political blog TheHill that President Obama is “open” to looking at a government bailout for the nations ailing newspaper industry.
I am itching to rant on how bad of an idea this is. First, though, the facts. From TheHill’s coverage:
“Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced S. 673, the so-called "Newspaper Revitalization Act," that would give outlets tax deals if they were to restructure as 501(c)(3) corporations. That bill has so far attracted one cosponsor, Cardin’s Maryland colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D).”
“Obama said that good journalism is "critical to the health of our democracy," but expressed concern toward growing tends in reporting — especially on political blogs…”
"I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding," he said.
I’ve said for a very long time – since the start of the Obama online campaign – that it seems to me that the then candidate, now President, has a very tenuous grasp of New Media. This has been borne out in much of the choices he’s made in terms of tech policy and presidentially appointed thought leaders.
I chronicled a snapshot of the new administration’s #techfails in the context of the larger #fail of US CIO Vivek Kundra:
- The FTC regulating and restricting almost all speech on the Web.
- Recovery.gov was found to cost $18 million (a site to showcase governmental fiscal transparency), but what that purchases is nowhere to be found.
- A floundering plan for national cyber-security (ask Twitter, a company recognized by the State Department as internationally vital to free expression, how that’s working out for them right now).
- A national broadband stimulus package that most pundits agree has no roadmap or guideposts for success other than the same industry players that have corrupted the Universal Service Fundfor decades.
- Christine Varney’s quixotic quest to end Google.
Given that the habit of past presidential and congressional administrations to simply throw money at the problem has been ratcheted up to eleven by the current administrations, there’s a strong possibility that this bill will see traction, which alarms and irritates me.
In essence, it takes the view that in hopes that rewarding failure will yield success in the future. The newspaper industry is in a death spiral, and bequeathing them with a sack of cash will only prolong the inevitable.
Isn’t it Obvious that we don’t want State Run Newspapers?
Obviously, bias is pervasive in the old Heritage Media, but assigning journalism governmental overlords will almost ensure that journalistic independence will end. A bailout is the only hope of continued existence for the majority of newspapers, since almost without exception they’re too proud or ignorant to fundamentally change the way their organizations operate to adapt to the new media ecosystem.
If one examines the extent to which the government has structured their relationships with the large banking institutions and the automakers, it isn’t a great leap of logic to see how the interference will play out with newspapers (and who would be more aware of that than the journalists that have covered those stories?).
Rather than see their salaries axed for running afoul of the government’s sensibilities, journalists and editorialists will no longer have to worry about the marketability of their work and offending readers and advertisers, but their governmental bosses as well.
In other words, if you don’t think partisan politics would quickly play into budgetary concerns, I’ve got a newspaper on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge I’d love to sell you.