NYC Mayor: Things might go more smoothly if the city ran the newspapers

Back in early November, we talked about the little-noted demise of two of the weekly local papers in New York City, the Gothamist and DNAinfo. At the time, I noted that it was really a sad development because papers like that have the somewhat unique ability to focus all of their time and resources on covering local news which is often drowned out amidst all the national and global stories which eat up the front pages of the bigger papers. Those two outlets broke many stories about municipal corruption and waste, as well as keeping a finger on the pulse of how New York City denizens were reacting to current events.

The Mayor of the Big Apple, Bill de Blasio, also apparently misses the local flavor of such outlets. (Which is rather curious since many of the corruption stories they covered were about him.) It’s a topic he addressed in a recent Q&A with reporters, but he gave a thumbs up to a rather offputting suggestion of how such newspapers could be kept afloat. Hey… maybe the city could pay for them! (NY Post)

There’s one sure way for Mayor de Blasio to get better press coverage — own the press.

The mayor said he’s open to the idea of the city investing in a media outlet that would cover the city.

“I think it’s a really good question and one that intrigues me and one that I’d be open in seeing the city invest in,” de Blasio said last week during a closed-door Q&A with reporters laid off by local news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist.

“Publicly sponsored, with appropriate grounds,” he added. “The BBC model, not always perfect, but in the best sense — there’s definitely a place for that.”

The Mayor went on to say that a newspaper owned by the public (presumably through their tax dollars) would be “fair and responsive” and “create more balance.” That was topped off with some insinuations about current newspapers which are owned by “a bunch of rich individuals from multinational corporations.”

I guess the “balance” part would be more positive stories about the de Blasio administration, a goal which might be readily achieved if the staff at the paper was getting paychecks covered by City Hall. We can probably assume that the evil fat cats from multinational corporations in question are the owners of the New York Post. But shouldn’t that be balanced out by the owners of the New York Times and the New York Daily News, who are generally in the cheering section for every liberal cause which comes along? When you’ve got those papers coming after you it’s a safe bet that you’ve really screwed up.

But leaving aside the politics of personal destruction angle, the mayor may want to remember what it’s actually called when the government owns the newspapers and television networks… State Run Media. A far better example to cite than the BBC would be Russia Today. It’s a joke, and everyone knows it. The BBC is widely respected for what is an admittedly amazing record of keeping the government’s fingers out of the editorial ink. I listen to several BBC shows and podcasts on a regular basis and they are actually more viciously engaged in ridiculing and criticizing their own government than American outlets. But it’s also true that the BBC is the extremely rare, if not wholly unique exception which proves the rule. Just look at the newspapers and television networks in places like Turkey, Venezuela and most Arab states to get an idea of how that system usually works out.

So, sure… I suppose Bill de Blasio might like to see a city-owned newspaper filling the void left by the Gothamist. But we should have no interest in it. We’d like to know who is paying our reporters and feel confident that they are answering to someone other than the officials they are covering. (Or at least not being directly paid by them.)