Bailout for newspapers?

21 09 2009

President Obama has told editors of the Toledo Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  that he is “open” to tax breaks for newspapers that become non-profits.obama-interview

The president responded to questions about S. 673, the so-called “Newspaper Revitalization Act,” that would give outlets tax deals if they were to restructure as 501(c)(3) corporations. That bill, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.),  has so far attracted one cosponsor, Cardin’s Maryland colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D).

The argument, I suppose, is that news isn’t like another consumer product but is essential for a functioning democracy. No disagreement there. But as Michael Kinsley has noted, it raises the question of who gets subsidies. The New York Times? The Washington Times? You get the drift. Kinsley argues that government establishing news media would be like government establishing religion — unconstitutional.

But hasn’t the government established NPR and PBS, part of the content of which constitutes the best in broadcast journalism? Why should print be excluded from government support?

I admit I’m queasy about government involvement in news and the implications for freedom of the press and an independent media supporting an informed electorate. But no news is not good news for democracy. Subsidized news would be better than none, right?

UPDATE: I see that some on the Internet are interpreting Obama’s kind words for newspapers as a slam at blogs.

Mr. Obama said he noted the trend. “I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding,” the President said.

Hey, if the shoe fits …

UPDATE2: Jack Shafer in Slate.com:

Saving Newspapers From Their Saviors: President Obama! Stiff-arm that “save the newspapers” legislation!

… The last thing newspapers need is the sort of help from the government that turns them into NPR, endlessly begging for contributions, pursuing wealthy philanthropists, and standing in line for government handouts. …

The best thing President Obama can do for the news business is nothing.

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