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The Self Shelf: All the news that’s fit to print

Published: October 9, 2009
Section: Opinions


<i>ILLUSTRATION BY Andrea Fishman/The Hoot</i>

ILLUSTRATION BY Andrea Fishman/The Hoot

Even as you gaze at this article, a myriad other newspapers remain on their shelves to collect dust in place of revenue. The newspaper industry is steadily going the way of the horse and buggy, beaten out by trendier internet and television based news organizations like CNN and Fox News. As once iconic papers start to slip into the abyss of cultural oblivion, concern builds about the future of the news industry.

The furor over this steady implosion is caused by the fear that our news is being watered down. The other modes of media don’t provide nearly the same amount of in-depth coverage and investigatory reporting as papers. Without newspapers, that Pulitzer Prize winning exposé of the latest government faux pas may never take place. The loss of newspapers would severely dilute the kick of the media cocktail that wakes us up when we’re lulled to sleep by complacency.

The decline of the newspapers is not only linked to new competition, but also to a fundamental failure on the part of the newspapers to respond. Papers everywhere appear to have adopted the strategy of “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

Thus, the response from the newspapers has been to put their content online, free of charge. While it might have at first seemed like a worthy strategy, it has backfired catastrophically. Newspapers require far too much revenue to provide their in-depth and investigative coverage via unclicked sidebar ads for Visine. The slow death spiral of newspapers continues (sponsored by Continental Airlines).

Other papers have responded to losses by watering down their quality in order to save revenue. Unfortunately, the very reason most people read newspapers is for their comprehensive articles. If you take these away, there’s no real reason not to simply go to cnn.com for one’s news.

Another solution being floated around is the idea of charging for online content. Thus, papers could become trendier for a younger generation but still retain enough revenue to provide in-depth coverage for the public. The problem with this solution is that people are most likely not going to pay for a slightly more in-depth news article than the one they can access for free on the CNN website. The fee proposal, while an improvement on current strategy, will still eventually lead to the demise of the newspaper.

One more concept being tossed about is the idea of a government bailout of the newspaper industry. This is the equivalent of trying to put a hundred dollar bill over a hole in a dam; it’s both worthless and a waste of money. Newspapers in their current condition are structurally defunct and throwing money at them isn’t going to change the inherent flaws in the system.

However, subtly gaining ground in congressional circles is the idea of turning newspapers into nonprofit organizations. With the enactment of this plan, newspapers would cease to be privately operated and would instead be funded by the taxpayers they serve. Even Rupert Murdoch would call that beautiful symmetry.

This solution would only occur for papers that were financially insolvent (so all of you New York Post readers can breathe easy). Also, it would not result in any true restructuring of the newspapers or downsizing, but simply a change in the funding procedure.

If newspapers are an indispensable part of a healthy democracy, then having the democracy support the newspapers would seem to be an act of self-preservation. Also, since many of the stories from other modes of media are broken by newspapers, even the person who reads only the headlines from yahoo.com can benefit from this (thus throwing out the argument of newspapers being unnecessary).

Ostensibly, this solution would involve insolvent newspapers basically ceding financial profit in return for continued existence. The main argument against this solution is that having the government control the media watchdog is like having the mob fund the police. However, taxpayer funding would be unconditional and no language in this bill would put restrictions on the flow of money.

Thus, even if the newspaper panned the party in power, it could not lawfully lose its nonprofit status. In-depth news reporting is far too important a pillar of democracy to be smashed with the erring hammer of partisanship.

A less pressing, if more obvious argument against the plan is that this is a waste of taxpayer money. Besides the fact that calling any government funding in the age of pork and politically powered shopping sprees is absolutely ludicrous, newspapers play too important a part in society to simply be tossed to the wolves. There is an obligation on the part of society to save newspapers.

When this solution is finally passed through Congress (one can dream), it will alleviate a miasmatic menace that threatens to eat away at the very foundations of our country. It will also save thousands of jobs, and thus help the country economically as well.

If this solution does not come to pass and the newspapers are allowed to collapse, we’ll never again get all the news that’s fit to print but instead a watered down substitute that puts us to sleep as immorality seeps into the concoction.