Newspaper bailouts coming to Connecticut?

posted at 11:17 am on January 1, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

I wrote a month ago about the possibility of government bailouts for failing newspapers, and in Connecticut it appears the notion has gained steam.  Unfortunately, some state lawmakers want to transfer capital from taxpayers to failing private enterprises, which we’ve seen on a national level for the last two months.  Their rationalizations make clear that the lawmakers have no concept of media, democracy, or common sense (via Michelle):

Connecticut lawmaker Frank Nicastro sees saving the local newspaper as his duty. But others think he and his colleagues are setting a worrisome precedent for government involvement in the U.S. press.

Nicastro represents Connecticut’s 79th assembly district, which includes Bristol, a city of about 61,000 people outside Hartford, the state capital. Its paper, The Bristol Press, may fold within days, along with The Herald in nearby New Britain.

That is because publisher Journal Register, in danger of being crushed under hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, says it cannot afford to keep them open anymore.

Newspapers face difficult futures. Readership has declined for print media even while it increases for their on-line sites. Printing papers is an expensive process, as is delivery, and more and more people seem disinclined to access news in that manner. Newspapers will eventually have to abandon newsprint and refashion themselves into a more generic news-delivery service and find new economic models to survive.

Unfortunately, Nicastro and his allies want to prop up an old, failing model with taxpayer subsidies. They feel that news media are too important to democracy, but fail to understand why — and even some media figures have trouble understanding it:

Nicastro and fellow legislators want the papers to survive, and petitioned the state government to do something about it. “The media is a vitally important part of America,” he said, particularly local papers that cover news ignored by big papers and television and radio stations. …

Former Miami Herald Editor Tom Fiedler said that a democracy has an obligation to help preserve a free press.

“I truly believe that no democracy can remain healthy without an equally healthy press,” said Fiedler, now dean of Boston University’s College of Communication. “Thus it is in democracy’s interest to support the press in the same sense that the human being doesn’t hesitate to take medicine when his or her health is threatened.”

The only reason — the only reason — that news media is vital to a democracy is its independence from government.  Think about this.  Is The National Enquirer vital to democracy?  Will the Republic fall if Entertainment Weekly suddenly closed its doors?  Not at all, not even if the entire paparazzi industry suddenly collapsed.

The need for a truly independent media is to make sure that the citizenry is fully informed of government activity and policy, and not just relying on the self-serving communications from elected officials.  Without independence, newspapers and other media have as much value as press releases from Congressional offices.

Now, what happens when government suddenly takes a stake in newspapers and other media?  Can they remain independent — or will they cater themselves to those politicians who support those subsidies and target politicians who don’t?  In fact, the very act of asking for those bailouts has destroyed their independence and credibility on political matters, the very core of what makes a free media necessary for a democracy.

At this point, the best possible outcome would be to let the newspapers crash and burn.  They’re worthless now as an independent voice in Connecticut.  If the market demand remains for print-and-deliver newspapers, then we will see private capital form to meet the demand.  If not, then all the taxpayer subsidies in the world would not have saved them anyway.

Update: Gary Gross has similar thoughts in his post, “Let Them Die”.


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Comment pages: 1 2

How long has Michelle been gnashing her teeth about this? Has it been a month? Two?

This is something that has been discussed — and so far is not happening — in one state, a state with more loons per square mile than any other states save California and Massachusetts.

For years, we have seen bailouts going to a variety of absolutely useless “projects,” “foundations,” parks and museums across the land, and this is the one that arouses her ire?

Can’t cry “wolf!” too often, you know, lest people begin to think your perception is faulty.

Let those pushing for such a bailout actually make a serious move, and it becomes a story. When it’s only at the level of an offhand comment, it ain’t news.

MrScribbler on January 1, 2009 at 10:22 PM

Then bailout NBC, MSNBC, CNN etc etc. Where will it stop?
Then what? Only bail out pro Clinton channels?

I’m waiting.

johnnyU on January 1, 2009 at 10:31 PM

Not to worry everyone. The ACLU won’t let that happen…unless it is too busy defending the rights of transgender wiccan vampires to have “holiday” displays in the passing lane of I95.

Laura in Maryland on January 1, 2009 at 11:22 PM

OK, the newspapers die. I will only miss my local town rag.

So, how are we bloggers goinng to get our HOT AIR press credentials so we can fill the void.

Where do I file my expense reports? That’s where the big bucks get spent (and I’m not talking fraud, just the normal baloney of traveling, hotels, and such).

Also, we need advertising to increase our public exposure – billboards, sides of busses, radio ads, that sort of thing.

We need to raise some serious cash. ON OUR OWN.

Jimmy Doolittle on January 2, 2009 at 3:49 AM

Bailing them out became necessary when Wall Street decided to ask for no strings.

It does not mean that the content will be at the behest of the government. It only means that the papers will be saved.

sethstorm on January 2, 2009 at 4:08 AM

This is something that has been discussed — and so far is not happening — in one state, a state with more loons per square mile than any other states save California and Massachusetts.

You forgot Texas and Alaska.

sethstorm on January 2, 2009 at 4:09 AM

Update: Gary Gross has similar thoughts in his post, “Let Them Die”.

One doesn’t have to let them die; it suffices to let them fail. If the failure of some newspapers will lead to someone’s dying, we can discuss whether to let him die. Until then, using the language of death just makes the failure of the newspapers seem more important and more pitiful than it really is.

Kralizec on January 2, 2009 at 4:20 AM

Besides the fact that people do not subscribe to news they consider bias and solely a leftard mouthpiece, people are just not relying on print media for their news.
Blake on January 1, 2009 at 11:52 AM

Even leftists aren’t buying the news any longer. The leftist in my family is aware of the propaganda the MSM passes off as news. He said to me recently “one thing I know, I don’t believe anything I read in the paper any longer.” The Obama victory cost the MSM their only valuable commodity; trust. They won the battle, but it cost them the war.

SoldiersMom on January 2, 2009 at 5:45 AM

I was thinking about the scene in The Godfather; Michael C. talked about owning someone in the media who could spin the murder of the police commissioner to sway the public.

Well, the same thing is happening with Democrats and their mouthpiece, the MSM. This symbiotic relationship is destroying the MSM and Democrats have no choice but to prop them up with tax dollars.

SoldiersMom on January 2, 2009 at 6:04 AM

Folks, you need to read this!

I wrote a similar story at Libertarian Republican blog early yesterday:

Democrat Rep. Frank Nicastro wants bail-outs for Connecticut Newspapers: How will legislators be able to resist?

Well, the reporter for Reuters, Robert MacMillan wrote to me and said that I had misrepresented the story, and “bailout” is not what Nicastro was saying.

I say, it most certainly is. Any government assistance constitutes a “bailout” most certainly subsidized “training, and financing opportunities,” as is explicitly noted in the piece.

What say You?

ericdondero on January 2, 2009 at 6:43 AM

Oh, you can click here if you want to see his comments and the story we ran, at LR blog.

I wonder if Ed Morrissey got a similar note from this guy?

ericdondero on January 2, 2009 at 6:44 AM

ericdondero on January 2, 2009 at 6:43 AM

Lady Logician said the same thing. She got a comment from McMillan that it wasn’t a “bailout”. Well, Nicastro might not have been talking about a bailout but McCmillan certainly was:

Its paper, The Bristol Press, may fold within days, along with The Herald in nearby New Britain.

[ ... ]

Nicastro and fellow legislators want the papers to survive, and petitioned the state government to do something about it.

To go from “may fold within days” to the “state government do[ing] something about it” is a bailout in anyone’s book – except for McCmillan, evidently. Maybe McMillan needs someone to buy him a dictionary so that he can learn what a “bailout” is. And maybe Reuters ought to try and find some writers who understand English.

All of this “bailout” talk is going to go the same way as the ridiculous amnesty debates, with the proponents denying the correct word be used to describe the situation and trying to dance away with some idiotic euphemisms that serve to hide the truth.

progressoverpeace on January 2, 2009 at 7:34 AM

SO freedom of the press means the taxpayer has to keep them alive, eventhough they are aligned with one political party. Freedom of religion, however, means eradicating every last vestage of Christianity from public life.

Spartacus on January 2, 2009 at 7:37 AM

All of this “bailout” talk is going to go the same way as the ridiculous amnesty debates, with the proponents denying the correct word be used to describe the situation and trying to dance away with some idiotic euphemisms that serve to hide the truth.

progressoverpeace

“He who controls the language, controls the debate.” ~ Unknown

RickZ on January 2, 2009 at 7:42 AM

I just saw a job opening on the CT Dept of Labor website for someone to work in the new Ministry of Truth. Must have rewrite experience, memory hole training to be provided.

rhodeymark on January 2, 2009 at 8:22 AM

Maybe CT thinks the term “Free Press” refers to the best cost of a newspaper, instead of to the media’s ties to government.

hawksruleva on January 2, 2009 at 10:36 AM

It does not mean that the content will be at the behest of the government. It only means that the papers will be saved.

sethstorm on January 2, 2009 at 4:08 AM

So, if someone is giving you money on a regular basis, you don’t treat them any differently? Human nature and the fundamental principles of economics indicate otherwise. Here’s an easy example. How will those newspapers react to the CT legislature bailing out OTHER industries, after they’re being paid by the CT government? Are the chances good that reporters, who owe their continued employment to the government, will criticize the government for spending taxpayer’s money in this way?

Or, how deep will an investigative reporter dig when an issue comes up about Nicastro, or one of the bill’s supporters? “Let’s see, if I write this story, I can expose corruption and waste. But this guy saved my job….”

hawksruleva on January 2, 2009 at 10:45 AM

Govt funded newspapers will collectively form the Ministry of Information. What doesn’t appear in them never happened, what apears in them is The Truth.

Want a preview? Pick up your kid’s public school history book sometime and read just a few pages. You’ll be asking yourself, Did we lose a war?

Akzed on January 2, 2009 at 12:41 PM

Comment pages: 1 2