January 1, 2009

2009: The Year of the Newspaper Bailout?

Michelle Malkin called it, as did several NewsBusters commenters. Their prediction was that newspapers on the brink would be asking for government bailouts.

It came to pass in late November that seven Connecticut legislators asked the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development for help in keeping the New Britain Herald and the Bristol Press afloat. A JPEG of the full letter with three of the seven signatures is here. Alleged GOP Governor Jodi Rell is apparently sympathetic.

A Wednesday “analysis” piece by Robert MacMillan of Reuters reports that the state agency is indeed “offering tax breaks, training funds, financing opportunities and other incentives for publishers, but not cash.”

Here are other key paragraphs from MacMillan:

Relying on government help raises ethical questions for the press, whose traditional role has been to operate free from government influence as it tries to hold politicians accountable to the people who elected them. Even some publishers desperate for help are wary of this route.

Providing government support can muddy that mission, said Paul Janensch, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and a former reporter and editor.

“You can’t expect a watchdog to bite the hand that feeds it,” he said.

….. The lifeline comes as U.S. newspaper publishers such as the New York Times, Tribune and McClatchy deal with falling advertising revenue, fleeing readers and tremendous debt.

….. Many media experts predict that 2009 will be the year that newspapers of all sizes will falter and die, a threat long predicted but rarely taken seriously until the credit crunch blossomed into a full-fledged financial meltdown.

….. “I truly believe that no democracy can remain healthy without an equally healthy press,” said Fiedler, now dean of Boston University’s College of Communication. “Thus it is in democracy’s interest to support the press in the same sense that the human being doesn’t hesitate to take medicine when his or her health is threatened.”

Connecticut does not see trying to find a buyer and offering tax breaks as exerting influence on the press, said Joan McDonald, the economic development commissioner.

….. Connecticut’s actions are not the first time government has helped newspapers. The U.S. Postal Service has offered discounted postage rates. Several cities have papers running under Joint Operating Agreements, created following the congressional Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 to keep competing urban dailies viable despite circulation declines.

On the whole, MacMillan’s piece comes across as sympathetic to newspaper bailouts. Two unexcerpted paragraphs quote a journalist who says government help wouldn’t affect his independence, but he misses the point. Government involvement would, eventually, either lead to government control or, as is the case with the BBC and NPR, ultimately untouchable, highly-subsidized entities that are free to disseminate their non-stop, heavily-biased reports without worrying about whether enough readers or advertisers care enough to pay for it.

The last thing we need is a hundred, or a thousand, little BBC clones running around setting the news agenda without regard to reader or viewer interest, in the process drowning out New Media. Perhaps because these entities would be receiving government money, the government would see it as its duty to keep New Media on the sidelines.

I believe that if New Media ends up inheriting the task of daily news reporting, clever entrepreneurs will figure out a way to do it, and well. It’s less likely to happen if they know that their failing competitors in print will be propped up ad infinitum.

2009 should be the year when failing media enterprises give up the ghost, even if it means that some cities and towns have no newspapers. I suggest that we see what pops up to replace them. I’ll go further (I’m not clear on what the answer is this question, so I’ll throw it open for discussion):  If the answer is “nothing,” what’s wrong with that?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.



  1. The voice from the telescreen was still pouring forth its tale of prisoners and booty and slaughter, but the shouting outside had died down a little. The waiters were turning back to their work. One of them approached with the gin bottle. Winston, sitting in a blissful dream, paid no attention as his glass was filled up. He was not running or cheering any longer. He was back in the Ministry of Love, with everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody. He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back. The longhoped-for bullet was entering his brain.

    He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.


    The obligatory Orwell reference for the beginning of the year.

    Comment by dscott — January 2, 2009 @ 9:18 am

  2. Speaking of handouts, the line grows longer. The Steel Industry – http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2009/01/now_its_the_steel_industry_wit.html

    Comment by dscott — January 2, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  3. I have offten said we should as small and large bussiness men/women stand on our own two legs and keep goverment out of what we do.
    When will the bussiness learn it is time to work or die. The Big Three , Steel makers, and News should have taken a look at the 1920′s.
    I truly believe that no democracy can remain healthy without an equally healthy press,” said Fiedler, now dean of Boston University’s College of Communication. “Thus it is in democracy’s interest to support the press in the same sense that the human being doesn’t hesitate to take medicine when his or her health is threatened.”
    I agree but not with My Tax Dollars
    Mr. Herbert M. Rogers Sr

    Comment by Herbert M. Rogers Sr — January 2, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  4. [...] This only scratches the surface. I can’t pretend that the following is comprehensive, but others in the bailout line include auto industry suppliers, General Motors Acceptance Corporation ($5 billion, separate from the bailout money granted to the auto company), retailers, commercial property developers, and two local newspapers in Connecticut. [...]

    Pingback by Pajamas Media » What’s a Auto Industry Bailout Opponent to Do? Boycott! — January 7, 2009 @ 4:49 am

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