Monday, September 21, 2009

Do news outlets deserve to be bailed out?

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 1:19 PM

While the auto industry is being ordered to retool and rethink their products, the banking industry braces for tough regulations and the insurance industry continues to lick their wounds and sharpen their knives, there's word from The Hill that Obama is willing to consider a bailout of the news industry.

The caveat? They have to become non-profit organizations.

And, that, dear readers, I'm all for. In fact, I've been shouting this for years: If the news industry is as vital to our democracy as everyone believes it is, why is it for-profit?

If the industry's sincere objective is to  lift the proverbial veil so citizens are clued in to what's going on in local, regional and national government, then why not lift the damn veil, shine the flashlight, report what you see, take your paltry non-profit salary and go home feeling good about having done a good deed that betters the country and your fellow citizen's lot in life.

That's not how it works, though. Why? News is big business.

This truth is made clear every time you open your newspaper and find that half of it consists of advertisements. It's also brought to everyone's attention when both sides of the political isle call for advertisers to boycott pundits they dislike ideologically. And, it's shown in the outrageous salaries some of the most popular, and outrageous, pundits collect each year.

The newspaper industry has enjoyed fat profits -- fatter than you might think -- for a long, long time. They've also taken on impressive debt, gotten stuck in time and lost touch with the very people they're trying to serve while blaming everyone else (the Internet, Craigslist, bloggers, even their aging subscribers) because they can't rake in the dough like they once did.

Their knee jerk reaction, of course, is to cut their biggest expense -- their staff. So, instead of offering citizens more value, they've decided to offer less. Less investigative journalism (which is very expensive), fewer foreign correspondents, fewer boots on the ground in Wall-shington and more sharing of stories with sister news organizations.

What that means for readers is often less background information on a story and less ties to local situations. That translates to this: Citizens, the very people the news industry swears it's looking out for, often don't know the whole story and, instead, are subjected to the interpretations of non-journalist entertainers who are more interested in popularity and ratings than in lifting the veil.

Therefore, I say 'yes' to a non-profit news industry focused on providing non-emotional, fact-based truth to all. More, I believe they should be afforded the same tax breaks any other non-profit would enjoy -- no more, no less. Beyond that, the government has no place in the news industry. None. The phrase that comes to mind is, "Conflict of interest."

At the same time, I say 'no' to crying with industry executives and shareholders because they're not able to capitalize like they once did on what should be free -- the spread of vital information, which is necessary for a healthy democracy.

What's not free is news gathering. It takes time, it takes dedication and it should be priced accordingly.

So, when newspapers start asking you to chip in for the cause -- hopefully their non-profit, democracy-focused cause -- by way of online subscriptions don't bow up, reach into your wallet and remember that you expect to be paid for your work also.

Democracy Now reviews the issue:

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