Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thanks, but no thanks, Sen. Kerry

Published May 7, 2009 in the Post Register.

A grim-faced Sen. John Kerry, as a prelude to hearings this week on the future of newspapers, suggested that newspapers are "an endangered species" and worried aloud that "the emerging news media" might be "more fragmented by interests and political partisanship."

He then chaired hearings featuring geniuses such as Arianna Huffington (whose online Huffington Post survives thanks to her personal financial largesse) to executives from Google, who profess that they only want to help.

The last thing the newspaper business needs is help from the government. Not only would government intervention eventually make things worse, but it would inevitably come with unacceptable strings attached. Newspapers are supposed to be the watchdogs of government, not a line item in its budget.

One of the things that has always bothered me about the BBC, which is considered the beacon of journalism in some circles, is that it is able to afford all those international bureaus and one of the world's most complete and sophisticated news Web sites because everyone in the United Kingdom must pay an annual fee of more than $200 per television set, all of which goes to fund "the Beeb." That generates about $7.5 billion a year (that's with a "b").

Just imagine if such a thing were attempted in the U.S. Idahoans are ostensibly outraged at the thought of increasing the gas tax by 2 cents a gallon. How would they feel about a $200 annual fee just to own a TV set?

To be fair, no one's proposing such a thing, but just the holding of hearings on the "future of newspapers" is enough to make my skin crawl.

First, as I've written on this page before, newspapers don't need a bailout or even a helping hand. The vast majority of community newspapers (those of fewer than 100,000 circulation) in the U.S. are comfortably profitable, even in this deepest of recessions.

Second, the last time the government stepped into our business was in 1970 with the Newspaper Preservation Act, which allowed competing newspapers in cities such as Seattle, Denver, Detroit, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and elsewhere to combine business operations while operating ostensibly competing newsrooms. In many of those cities, that move simply prolonged the inevitable closure of the weaker newspapers such as we've seen lately in Denver and Seattle.

Sen. Kerry, thanks, but no thanks. Newspapers are vital to the free flow of information, but we're not "too big to fail." We're figuring out how to adapt our business model in changing times, and we don't need the government's help to do it. The best things you can do for us is protect press freedoms and leave us alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment