Newspapers can’t be beholden to special interests

Tim White

The sky is falling on the newspaper business.
Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, and Baltimore have seen major daily periodicals drop their print editions.  The LA Times and the Chicago Tribune have filed for bankruptcy protection and the Gannett newswire is facing its second round of employment setbacks this year.
This is very much a sign of the times.  With the economy in the tank and the fate of the dollar being unknown at best, it’s logical that things like advertising revenues and subscriptions numbers begin to dry up.  That added to the birth of online journalism makes a recipe of eminent doom for the world of print.
Of course, mistakes were made along the way.  Newspapers did not invest in online programs until well after competing services took control of the marketplace.  The task of assigning blame to this situation, however, pales in comparison to the magnitude of the concept of losing such an integral facet of our democracy.
If a government of the people, by the people, and for the people is to succeed, the people must be in the know.  The easy action is to ask Uncle Barack to cut a check and save the day for these crumbling companies, vis a vis Wall Street and Detroit, but life is rarely that simple.
Aside from a dwindling supply of money to be tossing around, a news outlet funded by the government represents a gross conflict of interest.  The first amendment of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of press to act as a watchdog for the public-at-large to keep their friendly politicians in check.  By accepting congressional funding, newspapers compromise their loyalty to the people that they are intended to protect.
Besides, bailouts are so six months ago. 
Buzzing around Capitol Hill is the Newspaper Revitalization Act of 2009.  Rather than blindly tossing money at these companies, the bill offers incentive to newspaper to convert to non-profits organizations, structured similarly to public television stations.  While they would be free to report on all things political, the papers would be prohibited from making political endorsements.
This could potentially inject a breath of fresh air into the contemporary media.  Since the press is legally protected for the purposes of protecting the public, the business of passing the news should not be a profitable endeavor.  Secondly the press should not use its influence to advance any sort of political agenda; rather it should simply provide information for taxpayers to make their own decisions.

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