The print media industry, we all know, has been in rapid decline over the past few years, but recently, we’ve truly begun to see the manifestation of that decline as regional newspapers from around the country are drastically changing their business models, or going out of business altogether.
Forget laying blame (one last blame: I’ve blamed an unwilling newspaper industry for not embracing the new ways people access their news sooner), but instead, look at, as we’ve done in the past, the potential impact fewer news sources has on communities. Right now, we can only speculate: from not knowing that your local city council passed a bond ordinance to repave a nearby throughway, or, in the worst case, corrupt governments taking full advantage of the news vacuum.
As I said in a previous post:
“We are losing a very valuable component to sustainable communities when we see the demise of treasured local newspapers. Time will tell as to how this loss affects good government.
But could government be the answer to saving this fledgling, but absolutely necessary industry?
Ezra Klein this week on his blog asks this very question. In the age of the bailout in industries that have behaved very badly, why not help out the newspapers where the only bad behavior was a breathtaking lack of foresight?
“We have public universities and public centers for disease research and public firefighting departments and a public military and public roads. Why should news be different?”
He goes on to reference the perceived conflict of interest, but the funding model, Klein goes on, is right in front of us:
“Meanwhile, it’s not as if NPR or the BBC seem particularly concerned about criticizing their respective governments (nor, for that matter, do professors at public universities seem particularly cowed). And those funding mechanisms can, at the least, be transparent, predictable, and partial, which would be better than newspapers quietly trying a thousand things, many of them far from the public eye.
Earlier this year, the French government announced that it would offer up some $800 million to save its newspaper industry. Once our country stops blaming the media for virtually everything (read Roger Cohen’s excellent defense of journalists in The New York Times) and we realize how vital a robust news industry is, could a federal funding stream ever be possible?