Newspapers—news media—should say thanks, but no thanks

Let’s see.
Health care reform.
The economy and foreclosures, unemployment and interest rates.

Yes, with all Congress is considering these days, the viability of the newspaper industry has come to the fore. On Thursday, the House Joint Economic Committee will host a hearing on newspapers “to examine contraction in the newspaper industry, the economic impact of the changing media landscape, as well as the future of the industry at large,” according to an announcement quoted in Editor & Publisher.

This attention speaks well of the position newspapers, and journalism overall, hold in our society. Information and the free flow of ideas are invaluable to robust debate, freedom of speech, as well as the sense of community we all enjoy and sometimes take for granted.

But newspapers, often the most aggressive and effective government watchdog, do not need a bailout. Nor should they benefit from restructured laws designed to provide tax breaks, make it more convenient for them to become nonprofits or receive protection from the innovators such as news aggregators.

A series of bloggers expressed this point to PaidContent columnist Joseph Tartakoff recently.

I like Jack Shafer’s comment from Slate: “The government’s attempt to prop up newspapers with rewrites of the tax code or Sarkozy-esque direct subsidies of government advertising and free subscriptions for young people interferes with the already-in-progress transition from print to digital news delivery that’s been accelerating for the past 15 years—or longer. Propping up troubled papers has a cost. It weakens the enterprises that are rising from below to compete with them to deliver advertising and, yes, deliver news.”

Newspapers and other media need to figure this thing out for themselves. And they are. The New York Times recently revealed that it is working on a feature that would allow readers to analyze thousands of tweets on Twitter. The tool would function as a tweet aggregator of sorts, much like the news aggregators some in the newspaper industry are so concerned about.

Yes, innovation, and the public’s steady appetite for information of all sorts, will motivate news organizations to create new and fascinating platforms from which the media will maintain its watchdog role, maintain our sense of community, and make a profit as well.

So, as politicians bail out financial institutions and huge chunks of the auto industry and consider the challenges of health care reform, please, please leave the media as they are. Struggling. Fighting. And independent.

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