With the proliferation of news on the Internet, Americans aren't supporting their local newspapers. Circulation and ad revenues are way down, while web readership-where the news is likely to be free and up-to-the-minute-is way up. Technology has changed the game. But for those who see a connection between American democracy and the demise of the newspaper industry, it's time to get the government involved to save the news business.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced the Newspaper Revitalization Act, a bill that would allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) warns of the "serious consequences for our democracy" if his hometown paper, The Boston Globe, goes belly up. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has publicly argued for an antitrust exemption to save the San Francisco Chronicle, a paper that has long supported her political career. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) recently argued that "If Congress does not act…a major city in the United States will be without a newspaper in the fairly near future."
Washington can give newspapers tax breaks or generous subsides to keep them afloat. There are many ways of extending the life of a terminally-ill by forcing onto life support. But why should the government support an industry that consumers are rejecting?
"Most of those supporting a newspaper bailout were also critical of the media's behavior in the run-up to the Iraq War," says Reason senior editor Michael Moynihan. "Now imagine the reaction if the very same journalists wrote the very same stories about Iraq in 2002 but were reliant upon the Bush administration for their survival."
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Correction: The amount of French tax subsidies to newspapers is misstated. The correct figure is $800 million.