A European Model for U.S. Newspapers?

When I wrote a column in May 2005 about how the Newspaper Preservation Act was an unnecessary, anti-competitive, and ultimately ineffective government intrusion into journalism, 15 of the original 28 "joint operating agreements" (JOAs) between two erstwhile competitors in the same city had melted into a single paper. Over at the journalism cud-chewing Poynter Institute website, Rick Edmonds gives an update to what he describes as "a modest monument to unintended consequences and ineffectual government intervention":

In the last two months the three biggest remaining JOAs have hit the skids. The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are going to eliminate home delivered print editions several days of the week. Both Denver's Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer are poised to close unless a buyer can be found quickly (improbable in the current dismal market).

The current harsh economic climate exposes flaws that have been apparent all along in JOAs, which have dwindled from a peak of 28 to nine

Yet Edmonds, like some other recent commentators, is not quite ready to disavow federal meddling into the affairs of newspapers:

I don't think government subsidies to reinforce the fading civic function of newspapers is a ridiculous idea on its face. Some perfectly respectable countries like Sweden and Norway have been underwriting circulation for years. President Nicolas Sarkozy has a fast-track (and controversial) commission going to explore a government role in vitalizing the ailing French press.

Bzzzzt! First of all, as any morally serious person knows, Sweden and Norway are not respectable countries. Second, as it pertains to a country I'm actually not 100 percent ignorant of, France's model of journalism-state separation is nothing a self-respecting Yankee hack should ever covet. The first problem is spelled out right there at the link:

On the question of printing and distribution, there is a broad consensus among France's newspaper chiefs on the need to overhaul a costly and archaic system kept in place by powerful trade unions.

Papers are sold in France almost exclusively in a limited number of kiosks or specialist shops, most of which close early in the evening and on Sundays. Newspaper deliveries are rare.

Why did French trade unions–and not just any French trade unions, but a capital-C Communist French trade union–get a chokehold on "private" newspaper distribution and printing so tight that home delivery is basically unheard of, Sunday newspapers are the exception, and publishers are told how many distribution and production employees are required to deliver their product? Because of intervention by the French government.

After World War II, there was a major concern both in Paris and Washington that the Communist Party, which had been very active in the Resistance, would gain a foothold in post-war France the way it was doing throughout Central Europe (where democratic traditions were weaker, and the Soviet Union exercised parental control). So the French government was anxious to offer generous concessions to the commie trade union CGT (which, to be fair, decoupled from the Commnist Party in...um, 1995), in return for not crippling the country with strikes and fomenting revolutionary unrest. So CGT got the newspapers.

As a direct result, French dailies have been unable to experience most 20th century technology gains, nevermind the fancy stuff from the 21st. So they continue bleed money, shrink newsrooms that were never very big to begin with (by American standards), beg for subsidies from the government, and continue a relationship with power that one might charitably describe as peculiar. Sure, Sarkozy is attempting to reform this (as all presidents have before him), but he'll likely get nowhere, and the over-arching lesson for a free press remains: Lie down with the government, and you'll get up with fleas.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Bingo||

    But you don't understand, ink-on-dead-trees is a "civic function" that the government must protect!

  • TofuSushi||

    Bashing another superior French system with a bunch of RightWing scare words?

    Shame on you Matt Welch.

  • Reinmoose||

    cool - nobody reads that stuff anyway

  • TofuSushi||

    What is wrong with the Communist Party? Is jailing them for their beliefs next on the agenda?

  • ||

    Who else remembers the good old days when Sarkozy was a sexy, sort of revolutionary, free marketeer?

  • ||

    "Bzzzzt! First of all, as any morally serious person knows, Sweden and Norway are not respectable countries."

    What do you mean by this? Both seem fairly respectable to me. And both are very competitive welfare states (albeit very homogenous) but competitive and productive societies.

  • ||

    Tofu --- you're kidding, right? The political powers of the twentieth century that jailed other political parties were almost exclusively communist (there were also the uber-famous Nazis - themselves the National Socialists).

    But... what's wrong with the Communist Party? They're just evil, really. I mean, what's wrong with Hitler? Mass murders, slavery, etc.

  • Matt Welch||

    What do you mean by this? Both seem fairly respectable to me.

    If I have to explain it, it will be ruined.

  • TofuSushi||

    Tofu --- you're kidding, right?

    Not at all. You seem to be talking about those corrupt State Capatalists of the past, not the fair, cairing modern groups.

  • Xeones||

    Norway and Sweden just haven't been the same since the Vikings chilled out.

  • ||

    Maybe the government can just provide prefabricated news stories to the papers detailing the marvelous success of various government activities.

    Win-win-win-win.

  • TofuSushi||

    P Brooks, are you pre-bashing the successes of the Obama administration?

  • ||

    Well, ToeSushi, let's just say I have low expectations.

  • Sean Connery||

    Lad, they're wee little homogeneous countries, they are. And all the good Viking blood went to Scotland ages ago.

  • TofuSushi||

    P Brooks, namecalling is the lowest form of fascist rightwing discussionkilling that there is.

  • ||

    Not at all. You seem to be talking about those corrupt State Capatalists of the past, not the fair, cairing modern groups.

    ... *sigh

  • ||

    Not at all. You seem to be talking about those corrupt State Capatalists of the past, not the fair, cairing modern groups.

    Ah, also, learn to spell. I know you Marxists sort of get your rocks off by destroying language (isn't that an official tenet of Marxism?), but the liberty-minded tend not to.

    When in Rome...

  • Jozef||

    I'm currently in Dublin, and every morning I pass people handing out free copies of one of two papers. They seem to be doing quite well for themselves, or at least don't look like they'd be going bankrupt anytime soon. They still can's spell properly ("centre", "flavour"), but other than that they are readable.

  • Kunal||

    >>Norway and Sweden just haven't been the same since the Vikings chilled out.

    What about Gustavus Adolphus, then?

  • ||

    Norway and Sweden just haven't been the same since the Vikings chilled out.

    If you're not doing blood eagles any more, you're just not cool.

    Lad, they're wee little homogeneous countries, they are. And all the good Viking blood went to Scotland ages ago.

    I am the last one!

  • ||

    Tofu, why is it fair and caring to coerce and force people into compliance, which is required to make people who don't want to be communists adhere to communism?

    Wanting equality is fine, but equality of opportunity is the goal, not equality of outcome. Otherwise, you are championing the idea that you work 40 hours a week to get 1000 dollars and I work zero hours a week to get 1000 dollars.

  • Reinmoose||

    Newspapers lately seem to just be publishers for press releases anyway - maybe it would be more efficient if the government just bought their own publishers.

  • Reinmoose||

    thinks TofuSushi is an intentional troll

  • Xeones||

    People, don't argue with Tofu. Much like its namesake is a spoof of real food, it is a spoof of a real troll, and a particularly tedious spoof at that.

    What about Gustavus Adolphus, then?

    What Epsiarch said. Lutherans just aren't much into pulling people's lungs out through their backs, sad to say (unless they're my Norwegian-derived stepfather watching the Minnesota Vikings lose).

  • Tyler||

    Nick,

    That's why France is so great! Everyone can be a lazy bastard, then protest when things go down the shitter. Then the government assumes more control.

    It's a win-win-win! (win-win)

  • ||

    As revealed in ish. 171.

  • ||

    That was in response to you, RM.

  • ||

    Speaking of European models, I particularly like the tall, blonde Czech girls.

  • Kunal||

    >> What Epsiarch said. Lutherans just aren't much into pulling people's lungs out through their backs, sad to say

    You do great disservice to the inventors of the Swedish Drink.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwedentrunk

  • ||

    You do great disservice to the inventors of the Swedish Drink.

    Gross, but not on the artistic level of the blood eagle.

  • Reinmoose||

    Pro Lib -
    I don't get it, sorry.
    ish 171?

  • TofuSushi||

    Speaking of European models, I particularly like the tall, blonde Czech girls.

    Monogenderist.

  • ||

    RM,

    Back in the Before Time®, when I read comic books as a lad, complex plot lines would often be footnoted with the statement, "As seen in ish. 100." "Ish." meant, of course, "issue".

    It was an indirect way of saying "No duh!"

  • Kunal||

    Gross, but not on the artistic level of the blood eagle.

    There's not convincing you guys. Ya'll are all just shills for Big Aesir.

  • ||

    It was performed by cutting the ribs of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out. Salt was sprinkled in the wounds.

    Gustav! We cut him open, broke his ribs and ripped his lungs out. Yet, I'm not satisfied.
    Apply some electroshock to the wounds.
    I don't think it's been invented yet.
    Then use salt.

  • ||

    Ya'll are all just shills for Big Aesir.

    I'll have you know, sir, that I am a shill for Big Dökkálfar.

  • phalkor||

    the blood eagle is so awesomely horrifying, thanks for the link. reminds me of deathklok.

  • ||

    I'm a shill for Big Symbel.

  • TallDave||

    , and continue a relationship with power that one might charitably describe as peculiar

    I would have described it as "fellatious." I guess I'm not as charitable.

    Hey, ever wonder how socialism gets public support?

  • ||

    A good saga isn't worth a knulle unless it's carved on a rune stone. If only we had had government support! Now all we have are these flimsy "news"papers with which to line our boots. Bah! Who will tell our stories now?

  • ChrisO||

    A Møøse once bit my sister...

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement