Please Don't Save Us

Journalism doesn't need a bailout

You know what journalism could really use more of? Government participation. Who better, after all, than a gaggle of technocrats and political appointees to guide the industry in matters of entrepreneurship, fairness, and coverage?

Thankfully, the good folks at the Federal Trade Commission are all over it, cobbling together a report aimed at saving newspapers, called "Potential Policy Recommendation To Support the Reinvention of Journalism." It's only the first step in a long-term plan to rescue the Fourth Estate from itself.

As you can imagine, the paper is crammed with groundbreaking ideas: industry bailouts, higher taxes on the stuff you buy to help subsidize the stuff you don't, etc. There is even talk of a government-sponsored journalist-education program, because God knows there simply aren't enough J-school students.

Now, I suppose some of you might find it a bit creepy that civil servants have tasked themselves with "reinventing" journalism. How healthy, you may wonder, could it be for government to pick journalistic winners and losers in a democratic society?

"Not very" would be the correct answer. Then again, if the FTC can't repress its authoritarian impulses—an affliction that's catching these days—it, at the very least, could have the decency to offer up some ideas that sound vaguely innovative.

But as Jeff Jarvis, a new-media expert and professor at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, points out, "The word 'blog' is used but once in 35 pages of text—and then only in a parenthetical mention of soccer blogs."

Before you know it, the FTC will pull together a report called the "Potential Policy Recommendation To Support the Reinvention of the No. 2 Pencil." Technological advances (such as the iPad) are vital in this budding plan only if we can tax them.

The larger problem, though, is that the entire discussion is predicated on a myth.

The majority of the FTC draft focuses on ways to bail out the newspaper business, which isn't exactly the same as "saving" journalism. I love newspapers. I make my living at a newspaper (for now). But journalism doesn't need salvaging. Newspapers—as in, news on paper—are struggling, for now. But consumers (scrupulously ignored in the FTC report) have an array of news outlets from which to choose, and most often, the coverage offered by them is far more thorough than what we've had in the past.

How we disseminate information is being reinvented—it always is being reinvented—and one day soon a breakthrough will allow newspapers to be compensated more fairly for the content they produce. But propping up antiquated models is no way to save any industry.

Let me put it another way. In 1985, the FTC did not set forth recommendations on how to "reinvent music" and propose a 5 percent tax on compact discs as a way to subsidize companies that produced vinyl records. That kind of intervention would have hindered technology rather than driven it.

Hey, bookstores are going out of business at an alarming rate. No one is suggesting we reinvent "writing."

So though it might seem tragic to the people at the FTC that the future of journalism may not include every magazine and television station they admire, it's not the government's job to alter the trajectory of journalism. Journalism should be off-limits. And the FTC "discussions" are a way to preserve, not save, and to control, not innovate.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his website at


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  • ||

    It would appear that it certainly needs something!


  • Fiscal Meth||

    But if newspapers and magazines go out of business what will I use to piece together my ransom letters?

  • Suki||

    Use the ransom font on a computer at Kinko's.

  • Tim||


  • BakedPenguin||

    Go to your local college and swipe some flyers for local bands. It's not like anyone's going to read them anyway.

  • Fiscal Meth||

    Sure but then what will I use to put on the driveway where my car leaks oil. Those flyers are too glossy and absorb nothing.

  • ||

    Don't worry, you'll still be getting phone books you don't use for many years to come; dropped off conveniently at your doorstep.

    Hundreds and hundreds of useless and absorbent pages for your driveway.

  • Fiscal Meth||

    Maybe a phone book barrier in the gulf coast?

  • ||


  • Tim||

    Will this scheme include reinventing Helen Thomas?

  • ||

    Don't laugh. They saved her brain, you know.

  • ||

    Have your victim write the letters. Nothing to track back too and it provides proof of life at the same time.

  • Kolohe||

    In 1985, the FTC did not set forth recommendations on how to "reinvent music" and propose a 5 percent tax on compact discs

    Didn't the Canadians sort of do this though?

  • Paul||

    In 1985, the FTC did not set forth recommendations on how to "reinvent music" and propose a 5 percent tax on compact discs

    Didn't the Canadians sort of do this though?

    Yes, and the result was Bryan Adams.

  • Bryan Adams||


  • AlmightyJB||

    Our Sunday paper just doubled in price. What are they thinking.

  • Paul||

    They're thinking they're going to fleece the only suckers who still actually get a Sunday paper.

  • -||

    How many desperate marketing schemes are you fluent in?

  • AlmightyJB||

    Oh, I canceled. I only subscribed for the Sunday sports section which actually was pretty good. But it's not football season so I don't care.

  • Untermensch||

    And the FTC "discussions" are a way to preserve, not save, and to control, not innovate.

    Just what we need, more media pickled in the briny badness of government “largesse” to preserve it…

  • Jason||

    Isn't that... conservative???

  • ||

    GOOGLE is a very profitable company, and with their ad revenues, they have no problem offering a free online newspaper for now. So what's to rescue or re-invent? True, they are not making money off of journalism per se, but advertising has always been the way the media pays for itself.

  • Paul||

    I saw State of Play the other day.

    I was a little annoyed at how heavy handed and melodramatic it was. I think they could have gotten their message across with more subtlety.

    Plus, the undermined their own message at several points.

  • ||

    Google doesn't have it's own newspaper, it aggregates content from other people.

  • Tim||

    Just thinking... the Muppets took Manhattan, maybe they can take Afghanistan too. Tough little fookers.

  • ||

    Muppets in burqas? You may be on to something...

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    Those Muppets are a little too high society for Afghanistan. Sounds more like a job for Fraggle Rock.

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    Miss Piggy is the ultimate Muslim nightmare.

    A liberated female made of pork. All she'd need to do is squirt whiskey out of her hooters to be the perfect storm.

  • Tim||

    Because only a professional journalist can come up with lines like this:
    "Growing ethical turmoil surrounding Rangel has prompted calls for Pelosi to yank Rangel’s gavel. "

  • Tim||

    In the end, I think Charlie yanked his own gavel.

  • -||

    Till it was raw.

  • ||

    What am I gonna put my crawfish on?

  • LarryA||

    If the FTC really wants to save newspapers they need to look at the ones that are making a profit. The one my wife works for has run in the black seven of the seven years it's been publishing.

    Of course it features original local news written by an experienced and community-savvy award-winning reporter, not the same AP stories everyone else publishes.

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  • Salizar||

    Your a moron!

  • People Power Hour||

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  • Boss Tweed||

    I will buy newspapers again when I can read a few news stories and then hop to my favorite porn site to review the lastest news about slutty teen cheerleaders who want to meet me right now.

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    Wasn't Ronald Wilson Reagan the Antichrist? He has six letters in each name (666).

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