Senate hearing today on plight of newspapers

6 05 2009

71950128CS012_Senate_Holds_WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel is looking at the plight of struggling newspapers in the digital era.

Sen. John Kerry said Wednesday’s hearing on the future of journalism comes as many papers falter and new ways of delivering information multiply by the day.

The Boston Globe in Mr. Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts is the latest major paper facing the threat of closure unless it can cut costs.

Mr. Kerry said steps must be taken so the news media can stay diverse and independent.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland wants to help newspapers restructure as not-for-profit organizations.

Among those scheduled to testify is David Simon, who is a former reporter at the Baltimore Sun and creator of the HBO drama “The Wire.”

Among the topics to be discussed, according to panelists on Diane Rehm’s show this morning, are government support for newspapers or a bailout for struggling newspapers. This is bound to stir up vehemence on both sides of the ideological spectrum. And many journalists, no doubt, will posit that the press cannot be totally independent if it receives government support, that the essential watchdog function over government will  be compromised.

Sounds reasonable in theory, but it hasn’t worked that way in practice. In my view, the best broadcast journalism going today, including tough investigative pieces into government functioning, come from NPR and PBS — both government funded. None of the networks or cable outlets, and certainly no radio I’ve heard, comes close in terms of journalistic quality. The comparison is almost ludicrous.

Then there’s the BBC, long considered a paragon of global journalism

I can see no reason print journalism should be different. I’m not necessarily advocating government subsidies, I just think the argument of compromised journalism is weak.

I would be more concerned about practicality and implementation. Which outlets will the government decide to support? How much will it cost, and what programs would we have to sacrifice? Do readability figures support the argument — in other words, if we save it, will they come? Has our culture so shifted away from the newspaper habit that the goal of an informed electorate is unattainable?