Work with me here:

Newspapers have been an important part of the American political process since even before the Constitution was written. The First Amendment was inspired, in part, by the founders’ recognition of the importance of newspapers to that process.

Newspapers have been referred to as the “Fourth Estate” (after Congress, the Presidency, and the Judiciary) because they monitored the government at all levels, federal and state and local, and kept voters up to date on what the government was doing. Without that information, voters would not be able to exercise their franchise properly.

But now newspapers face an existential crisis due to falling revenue. Most can no longer afford to maintain a large staff of reporters, and are reduced to filling their pages with stories from the major wire services. The future is dire; even with those cutbacks they’re losing money and it’s only going to get worse. How long before the first major city whose last daily paper goes belly up? If it hasn’t happened already, it surely will soon.

Who shall keep the voters apprised of government activity, if not an organized press? And who will pay for it? A government subsidy is no answer; if you give government the purse strings, what newspaper would feel comfortable criticizing the government that pays them?

So how about a newspaper mandate? You pass a federal law requiring every adult American to subscribe to a daily newspaper. They can pick any newspaper they like, so there’s no problem with monopolies. (Yeah, in many areas now there’s only one local paper, but you can get USA Today or the Wall Street Journal nearly everywhere, just to take two examples. And once the newspaper mandate is in place, you will find new newspapers popping up, and existing ones broadening their distribution areas. Any monopolies will be short-lived.)

This then gives the press a guaranteed source of funding which isn’t directly under government control, providing them with the resources to do the kind of aggressive reporting on government activities which is an essential part of running our Democracy.

Now I don’t really think this is a good idea, and I’m not proposing it seriously. I also recognize that it contains several whoppers which probably inspired horselaughs while you were reading it.

But tell me this: if the health care individual mandate survives court challenge, why wouldn’t this?

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