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Newspaper Bailout Update

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Re: the embattled newspaper industry that Jesse Walker discussed yesterday, there continue to be many fanciful ideas about rearranging federal law in order to keep afloat what was until recently one of the world's most successful business models. For instance, the attorney general of the United States said this week:

I think it's important for this nation to maintain a healthy newspaper industry. So to the extent that we have to look at our enforcement policies and conform them to the realities that that industry faces, that's something that I'm going to be willing to do.

To the extent that this may amount to across-the-board exemptions from anti-trust regulations that have little relevance to our 2009 world, that will be fine. To the extent that this may amount to special legal considerations given only to the biggest special pleaders, this will be as unjust (and ineffective) as the inaccurately named Newspaper Preservation Act.

Speaking of anti-trust and joint operating agreements, the government-afflicted newspaper market of San Francisco is being hit with pleas, such as this editorial from the SF Bay Guardian, to have "Congress, the state Legislature, and the San Francisco supervisors" intervene to "force" the Chronicle-owning Hearst Corporation to "work with potential buyers." Yes, that's the same Bay Guardian that sued (successfully!) the competing New Times chain for "predatory pricing."

There's better news from Maine, where the state employee pension fund has thankfully declined to buy the state's largest newspaper company. (Really, pension funds have enough problems of their own.)

And in a long Nation magazine manifesto, scarequote-worthy "media reformers" Robert McChesney and John Nichols advocate a journalism "stimulus" costing $60 billion over the next three years, and comprising (at minimum) a $200 tax credit for newspaper subscriptions, the elimination of postage rates for magazines receiving less than 20 percent of their revenue from advertising, taxpayer support for "a well-funded student newspaper and a low-power FM radio station" at "every middle school, high school and college," and so on. Their argument is worth reading in full, if for no other reason than to appreciate what a wonderful diversity of interpretation we have in this Land of the Free. A selection:

Only government can implement policies and subsidies to provide an institutional framework for quality journalism. […]

Fortunately, the rude calculus that says government intervention equals government control is inaccurate and does not reflect our past or present, or what enlightened policies and subsidies could entail.

Our founders never thought that freedom of the press would belong only to those who could afford a press. They would have been horrified at the notion that journalism should be regarded as the private preserve of the Rupert Murdochs and John Malones. The founders would not have entertained, let alone accepted, the current equation that seems to say that if rich people determine there is no good money to be made in the news, then society cannot have news.

Reason has taken a different view over the years, which you can peruse here. Meanwhile, USA Today this week produced a fact-rich snapshot of the industry, including the perhaps-surprising-to-some news that average profit margins at newspaper companies still clock in at an enviable 10 percent.

Many of these links via the invaluable Romenesko; more newspaper-bailout news here.

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  1. “Our founders never thought that freedom of the press would belong only to those who could afford a press.”
    Yo, fuck The Nation.

    The first newspaper I worked for was one I founded with money I got from hocking my car.
    I was able to keep it afloat for a year and leverage it into a good job with an established paper.

  2. We need a better licensing system for the press than what we have now. Some sort of intelligence test is in order.

  3. I still don’t understand why newspapers must exist for their to be journalism. TV news broadcasts on both air and cable, radio still exists, the internet exists. I refuse to believe people will only do investigative journalism and monitor our govt if they can print their findings on a dead tree and send them to people a day after they happen.

    When do we just start shooting the powers that be and then grab lunch?

  4. So if Anti-trust laws are bad for newspapers, why are they good for every other industry?

  5. The founders would not have entertained, let alone accepted, the current equation that seems to say that if rich people determine there is no good money to be made in the news, then society cannot have news.

    Wow.

    Just…

    wow.

  6. their should be there. TGIF.

  7. I believe people will always do investigative journalism and monitor our govt — as long as someone pays them to do so.
    Despite what most reporters might claim, journalism isn’t some kind of holy calling.
    Once the paycheck stops, fuck ya’ll. You’re on your own.

  8. Can you imagine the flurry of posts we’d have if Reason reported everything stupid written in The Nation?

  9. yeah but this is beyond stupid into scary land. that they can even begin to believe in no strings attached money is just completely fucked up.

  10. “Fortunately, the rude calculus that says government intervention equals government control is inaccurate and does not reflect our past or present, or what enlightened policies and subsidies could entail.”

    That sounds like it was plucked right out of a statement made by one of the bad guys in an Ayn Rand novel. It is really that overtly silly.

  11. dhex,

    I agree… but once you have made the mental locutions required to believe that theft is OK if the person has more than you, all bets are off. I’m not surprised they think this at all.

  12. SugarFree,

    There is never anything stupid in The Nation since they got rid of that windbag war monger Hitchens.

  13. Fortunately, the rude calculus that says government intervention equals government control is inaccurate

    Tell that to AIG.

    So if Anti-trust laws are bad for newspapers, why are they good for every other industry?

    Because the newspapers for which exemptions will be made have proven themselves to be reliable allies of the people making the exemptions, that’s why.

  14. There’s better news from Maine, where the state employee pension fund has thankfully declined to buy the state’s largest newspaper company.

    There was some additional information on the proposed sale of the Portland Press Herald in the paper today. About 66 to 100 percent of the negotiated price reflects the value of the real estate the paper owns. So even if the paper fails the investors will recoup most, if not all, of their investment if they can sell the properties. It’s more like a ‘buy some real estate and get a newspaper for free’ deal.

    That says a lot about the state of the newspaper industry.

  15. “Our founders never thought…..”

    A good rule of thumb is that whenever some leftist wacko invokes the founders, whatever idea they are trying to sell is something that is 180 degrees opposite of what the founders believed in.

  16. …or what enlightened policies and subsidies could entail.

    This sounds more like a pre-orgasmic rush coming from them than the dire warning it truly is.

    Enlightenment has never had such a steep price. Hell, I’ll “enlighten” those 2 rent-seeking fucks for $50. I’ll even throw in some rude calculus for nothing.

  17. “I agree… but once you have made the mental locutions required to believe that theft is OK if the person has more than you, all bets are off. I’m not surprised they think this at all.”

    it’s not even the “we should use public money for what i want” thing that hits my radar – that’s so common.

    it’s more the idea that newspapers could get money from the government and there wouldn’t be any problems or conflicts of interest or anything going on. like, fuck? what the fuck? it’s baffling!

  18. “Our founders never thought that freedom of the press would belong only to those who could afford a press.”

    What does this even mean? Our founders gave away free printing presses? People who couldn’t afford a press could use one anyway? It’s not only stupid and false, it doesn’t even make any sense.

  19. What does this even mean?

    That the pantybunchers at the Nation (want you to) believe the Founders were secret socialists, would be my guess.

  20. …the Founders were secret socialists…

    Just like Jesus!

  21. Our founders never thought that freedom of the press would belong only to those who could afford a press. They would have been horrified at the notion that journalism should be regarded as the private preserve of the Rupert Murdochs and John Malones.

    These 2 just can’t wrap their heads around the notion of change in how data is transferred today. They’re so stuck in a 100-year old model of news information gathering and distribution that they just end up like geezers longing for the golden days of radio. The business model is going tits up, for very good reasons that have nothing to do with rich oligarchs, but obviously that bit of news eludes them.

    Of course, that they write for a magazine that has lost money since day one and is supported solely on the back of wealthy benefactors, I suppose we can’t expect them to think outside their tiny, little mental boxes, let alone spot the inconvenient irony. “Doesn’t everyone operate like this?”

    Pssst…there’s this thing called the World Wide Web. All sorts of news and information on it, much of it disseminated by those without printing presses! You should check it out.

  22. Our founders never thought that freedom of the press would belong only to those who could afford a press. They would have been horrified at the notion that journalism should be regarded as the private preserve of the Rupert Murdochs and John Malones. The founders would not have entertained, let alone accepted, the current equation that seems to say that if rich people determine there is no good money to be made in the news, then society cannot have news.

    This might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. The miseducation required to write something this inane and inaccurate while still holding a job as a journalist is mind boggling. I bet they both went to Brown.

  23. Turns out McChesney went to Evergreen State, so he went to “Brown for Dummies”. Can’t figure out where Nichols went.

  24. What kind of bonuses do editors normally get?

  25. I got no friends because they read the papers. They can’t be seen with me.

    But the meaning of that is different than back in ’73.

  26. Typical newspaper attitude. Fuck ’em. When have they EVER championed freedom and liberty over the last 150 years? Hearst and McCormick are the reason hemp is illegal, fer crissakes.

  27. WOW. To think that I once had a subscription to The Nation (it was a gift, but still).

    The Nation loves to advertise the fact that it isn’t owned by the government, but somehow their logic doesn’t extend too far. Why they can believe the government has a duty to keep newspapers afloat baffles me, but I imagine most of their logic is equally baffling.

  28. Needing a bailout is a fairly good indication that people don’t want the crap you’re slinging. The biased media has made its bed and now must lie in it, despite the stains of partisanship, dank rhetoric, crumbs of leftism and elitist goat droppings therein. The Fed already supports leftist radio because no one wants to listen to it, not to mention all manner of unwanted, unsustainable programs that the left view as ‘important to society’. The major paps and mags are already in the tank, gov’t money won’t make that more or less evident. The thing is, if you couldn’t do the job in the first place, you just don’t deserve it.

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