March 24, 2009

Hundreds of NPRs: Dem Senator Introduces ‘Newspaper Revitalization Act’

CardinUSsenOfMD0309.jpgI said earlier this year (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) that there was reason to believe that 2009 might be the year of the newspaper bailout.

Now one of Maryland’s two Democratic US senators thinks he has come up with a way to subsidize and save them — while simultaneously turning them into house organs for his party.

Ben Cardin (picture at right is from his Senate web site) has introduced “The Newspaper Revitalization Act,” would accomplish the just-described goals by allowing papers to convert themselves into not-for-profit entities, providing them tax breaks, and …. prohibiting editorials.

Those who know establishment media reporting know that editorial commentary will then become the sole province of left-leaning beat reporters pretending to be strictly fact-based in their supposedly straight news stories and “analyses,” while traditional newspaper editorials, which against all odds still seem to lean barely to the right when averaged out nationwide, will disappear.

Here’s how Thomas Ferraro of Reuters describes what Cardin has cooked up:

With many U.S. newspapers struggling to survive, a Democratic senator on Tuesday introduced a bill to help them by allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks.

“This may not be the optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains but it should be an option for many newspapers that are struggling to stay afloat,” said Senator Benjamin Cardin.

A Cardin spokesman said the bill had yet to attract any co-sponsors, but had sparked plenty of interest within the media, which has seen plunging revenues and many journalist layoffs.

Cardin’s Newspaper Revitalization Act would allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, giving them a similar status to public broadcasting companies.

Under this arrangement, newspapers would still be free to report on all issues, including political campaigns. But they would be prohibited from making political endorsements.

Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt, and contributions to support news coverage or operations could be tax deductible.

In the short run, Cardin’s bill would give well-to-do Democratic activists, perhaps including many of the “private investors” Tim Geithner is looking at to buy up “toxic assets,” a chance to fund the newspaper of their choice and turn it into a pet project for subtly and not so subtly promulgating their worldview. How about the New York MoveOn Times, or the Washington ACORN Post?

Over a longer period, it seems to me that what would develop out of this would be any number of single-city NPRs that would attempt to control the tone of, and access to, political coverage in their respective locales. They would give perfunctory lip service to token print operations, while having large and unfair cost advantages over their taxpaying for-profit competitors.

Readers might have other ideas as to what might come to pass if Cardin gets his way. So have at it, with this priceless exit excerpt, which happens to be the opening sentence of Editor & Publisher’s coverage of the story:

Newspapers perform a public service for democracy and should be allowed to operate as tax-exempt non-profits, U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D.-Md., proposed Tuesday.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE: Michelle Malkin, who predicted this development many months ago, calls Cardin’s bill “The Fishwrap Rescue and Recovery Act of 2009.”

UPDATE 2, March 25: Newsosaur thinks it won’t fly (HT commenter dscott) –

A conservatively managed endowment of no less than $1 billion would have to be raised to generate the 5% annual return necessary to cover a $50-million-a-year burn rate. What are the chances of that happening?

Great point, given that the burns at the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle, to name two, are at least that much. Also particularly timely, given the damage to equity values resulting from the POR (Pelosi-Obama- Reid Economy/POR Recession.

The papers could I suppose hold perpetual fundraisers, get on the high net-worth wine and cheese circuit, beat up on chambers of commerce for support, and the like. But a key to all of this would be walking away from their debts as they emerge from private ownership. In a lot of cases, sans bankruptcy, that will not be easy, and (one would think) might leave a lasting, bitter community legacy.

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7 Comments

  1. But there is an ulterior motive not discussed here…PBS. As you know PBS affliates are non profits but part of their restrictures has been the prohibition against competition with the media. Such a move would make it easier for PBS to argue they should be allowed to carry commercials to help their revenue stream which has been severely crimped.

    IMO, this non profit move still won’t help them, even PBS is suffering financially in this economic environment, no income still means no money for operations and therefore more layoffs to come.

    Comment by dscott — March 25, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  2. Good points. There really is no reason for PBS to exist any more.

    Comment by TBlumer — March 25, 2009 @ 9:34 am

  3. I think the false premise in all of this is that somehow the Fed is obligated to bail out failing industries – regardless of the cause for their failure. Newspapers are suffering for a number of reasons, among them a drop in readership and subscriptions, and selling something (a message) that many of the customers wish to no longer pay for (i.e. the continued pattern of liberal media bias). Former subscribers and purchasers of the daily news have sought to go elsewhere for their information – radio, cable news channels, the internet.

    I’m sorry people are losing their jobs, but that is simply the marketplace. It should not be the role of government to step in and save jobs – merely for the purpose of saving jobs – when the marketplace decides a certain product no longer has the demand it once did. Otherwise, taxpayer dollars would have been tapped and would still be funding the 8-track tape industry, the AMC Gremlin and Pacer, and dot-matrix printers. Those lost jobs, too, Mr. Cardin.

    Comment by David Combs — March 25, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  4. #3, great comment and analogies.

    Comment by TBlumer — March 25, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

  5. Even Newsosaur agrees, its not going to work and moreover, it has already been tried and failed: http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2009/03/bridge-to-nowhere-non-profit-press.html

    Comment by dscott — March 25, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

  6. Interesting, there is a doomsday list out on the dead tree media: http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2009/03/about-that-newspaper-doomsday-list.html

    For the record, the papers on the list are the Philadelphia Daily News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Miami Herald, Detroit News, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Daily News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Cleveland Plain Dealer.

    The hit list, which was produced by Douglas A. McIntyre at 24/7 Wall St., was rapidly and uncritically republished everywhere from Time Magazine to the Drudge Report. Although Doug is a friend whose ordinarily thoughtful work I have cited on occasion, there is no hard data or deep analysis to support his findings.

    Comment by dscott — March 25, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

  7. [...] your sending your thanks, you may want to complain about the “Newspaper Revitalization Act” that ensures there will be an American leftist propoganda sheet the equivalent of the USSR’s [...]

    Pingback by Sad News: GIVE-away passes Senate | The American Freedom Network — March 26, 2009 @ 10:42 pm

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