The idea of newspapers being bailed out began as a post-election joke by P.J. O’Rourke, but since satire can never compete with reality for pure absurdity, it’s rapidly gaining steam in the real world, thanks to an insane request by some Connecticut newspapers to a would-be government benefactor:
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.
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.
To some experts, that sounds like a bailout, a word that resurfaced this year after the U.S. government agreed to give hundreds of billions of dollars to the automobile and financial sectors.
Ed Morrissey responds:
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? [Actually, increasingly so–Ed] 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.
We already know of one Connecticut newspaper that’s announced publicly that it’s in the tank to its region’s politicians, and in the new spirit of old media — “Comforting the Comfortable” — it appears it will soon be joined by others.
Related thoughts from Roger Kimball, here.