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‘First, Do No Harm’: A Plea to the FTC

In May, the FTC launched a trial balloon calling for the "reinvention of journalism." Whether it's a "journalism AmeriCorps" or a Ministry of Truth, it's a bad idea.

by
Dan Miller

Bio

June 22, 2010 - 12:12 am
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On May 24, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (not to be confused with the Federal Communications Commission, which is also trying to help in a crisis not to be wasted) released a document titled “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism.”

It must, in the minds of some folks, be time for our masters to push the reset button. The FTC document notes that “this draft does not represent conclusions or recommendations by the Commission or FTC staff; it is solely for purposes of discussion.” On June 4, the FTC further clarified that the earlier discussion draft had not actually endorsed any proposal.

That’s nice.

Maybe it’s just a gas bag trial balloon. On June 11, the FTC posted a charming Fathers’ Day tribute titled DADvice: Stuff Dads Really Say; presumably that didn’t stake out a firm position either. I wouldn’t worry too much; there’s lots of more important stuff happening and most if not all of the proposals under consideration by the FTC would require congressional action to modify copyright laws and the Internal Revenue Code.

The proposal is directed at sustaining historically useful but decreasingly viable means of one-way communication of news and other stuff to the public. Newspapers are dying. A comparison to the industry earlier devoted to horse drawn carriages is apt. To have attempted to keep the “carriage trade” alive by requiring automobile manufacturers and the public in general to subsidize it, directly or indirectly, would have been foolish; now, a “Drudge Tax” is envisioned, sort of like an automobile tax to support buggy whip manufacturers, I guess.

Rather confusingly, the document notes:

Studies have shown that newspapers typically provide the largest quantity of original news to consumers over any given period of time. We include within the term “newspapers” online news websites run either by an existing newspaper or by an online-only news organization. Other sources of news are also important, of course, and proposals for action should not favor newspapers over other news platforms. (emphasis added)

The document then proceeds to explore multiple ways to favor “newspapers” over other news platforms.

In various contexts, however, it seems as though the term “newspaper” is used to refer exclusively to the printed things in which we wrap fish and with which we house train pups. For example, the document notes that “the trend toward online, rather than print, advertising is very likely to continue over time, forcing newspapers to look for other sources of revenue.” Should they cease to exist, we will have to find other things in which to wrap fish and with which to house train pups; the Internet does not work.

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