What To Do About The Newspapers?

http://jmcpherson.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/final-rocky-mtn-news.jpgJohn Nichols and Robert McChesney have a compelling article in the upcoming edition of the Nation, wherein they argue that government involvement is key:

The founders regarded the establishment of a press system, the Fourth Estate, as the first duty of the state. Jefferson and Madison devoted considerable energy to explaining the necessity of the press to a vibrant democracy. The government implemented extraordinary postal subsidies for the distribution of newspapers. It also instituted massive newspaper subsidies through printing contracts and the paid publication of government notices, all with the intent of expanding the number and variety of newspapers.

When Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s he was struck by the quantity and quality of newspapers and periodicals compared with France, Canada and Britain. It was not an accident. It had little to do with “free markets.” It was the result of public policy.

In particular, they argue for a tax credit, to go to individuals who spend money on newspapers — leaving the decision about which what to buy up to the consumer:

What to do about newspapers? Let’s give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers. The newspapers would have to publish at least five times per week and maintain a substantial “news hole,” say at least twenty-four broad pages each day, with less than 50 percent advertising.

In effect, this means the government will pay for every citizen who so desires to get a free daily newspaper subscription, but the taxpayer gets to pick the newspaper–this is an indirect subsidy, because the government does not control who gets the money. This will buy time for our old media newsrooms–and for us citizens–to develop a plan to establish journalism in the digital era. We could see this evolving into a system to provide tax credits for online subscriptions as well.

In the era of tax credits for Hollywood and private equity firms, it sounds more than reasonable to me.

2 thoughts on “What To Do About The Newspapers?”

  1. I started on a long, well-supported reply, but I’m so sick of this topic. Just die already, newspapers. Too much debt, not enough getting-it with this whole interwebs, hating the citizen journalists. Basically, what Jim said.

    I didn’t start The Bucket Blog to put the P-times out of business. I started TBB because the P-Times is an utter joke. Which came first, the sucky newspaper or the blog? The sucky newspaper.

  2. Why is it worth saving an industry that has not kept up with the times? Newspapers are failing and they have no one to blame but themselves. They have failed to keep up with new media. They have failed in reporting on what matters. They have failed in giving the people what they want. They have simply failed. A company that fails should just go under. Sure, it leaves people jobless, but that’s how the economy works. Are we going to see a bailout of newspapers next? The banks failed and we bailed them out. The American auto industry failed and we bailed them out. All of these companies should have gone under. Its their own fault for failing. My hard earned money should not be going to corporations.

    Let the newspapers fail.

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