02 January 2009

Government aid to the newspapers

There are those in the ink on paper media that seek help from the government in the way of a 'bail out' for their failing form of publication.  This from 31 DEC 2008 article at al-Reuters:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - 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.


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.

Relying on government help raises ethical questions for the press, whose traditional role has been to operate free from government influence as it tries to hold politicians accountable to the people who elected them. Even some publishers desperate for help are wary of this route.

Government taking an interest in the media?  Actually putting money into yet another ill-funded, ill-thought out, and unable to adapt corporate structure?

From personal experience in attending print and print media conferences, seminars, and industry meetings in the 1990's, the word that the various large news organizations in the print media was that:  we will figure this out, real soon now (RSN).  That earliest in 1994 to my memory, coming from the NYT.  I heard similar from the WaPo, Chi Trib, and many, many others.  They couldn't conceive of their stature and status and market being threatened by 'New Media' and that they would corral it all RSN, by golly!

Year after year I heard that until 2000 at least.  The New Media was going to easily accept the dominant news organizations!  They would have a secure business model!  They would co-opt and integrate these new technologies and, don't worry, those little people putting out their own information, their own stories and, indeed, their own media were 'unreliable', 'untrustworthy' and 'had no editors'.

Unfortunately for the print media giants, I had actually READ their daily works and they sucked like an Electrolux.  Pure Hooverage in the sucking department.  They couldn't reach out to give good writers a wider audience: they shunned them and tried to ignore them.

They tried to put in dedicated delivery concepts, as if we all wanted a piece of paper with a lovely banner on it, when we just wanted the damned information.

You may remember RIAA trying all sorts of ways to sequester music, make it 'pay for play' and otherwise trying to say that every time you heard a snippet of music you should pay a fee.  That ran into a problem called: digital reproduction at effective zero cost.  They took their big guns out and directly aimed them at their feet and *hit them* with deadly accuracy.  Those self-inflicted wounds brought out the idea that the only thing you are owed is access to a market: when the market changes, you have to figure out how to change with it or die.

Newspapers have a grand way of looking at the world that is disappearing right before their very eyes and taking their profit with it.  Local ads and news was seen as the one, good sanctuary of excellent papers.  They flubbed that, nearly to each individual paper.  The worse reporting on LA is by the LA Times, ditto NY and the NYT and the WaPo, who has the government beat, can't even hire journalists who can figure out the government's budget cycle.

When we speak of 'freedom of the press' that is something that belongs to the people, not the press.  The people have the right to the press on their own, it is not something given to a select few.  The Connecticut Constitution has a very explicit view on this in Article First, Declarations:

SEC. 4. Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

SEC. 5. No law shall ever be passed to curtail or restrain the liberty of speech or of the press.

The citizens of Connecticut have the right to speak freely and publish their works.

No one said you would be successful at it or get paid for it.

They go one better, however, and give us this in Article First:

SEC. 18. No hereditary emoluments, privileges or honors, shall ever be granted, or conferred in this state.

Being paid to publish would be considered to be an emolument granted by the State for those legacy businesses that are seeking it.  Doing so would put those businesses at an advantage over start-ups, and violate the idea that there is no hereditary right for a business to be successful through getting money from the State.  Incumbent businesses have the same right to fail as new start-ups, and seeking intervention by government is seeking to distort the market in your favor.  Citing a lineage of a paper does not make this better, but emphasizes the concept of how cozy that business is that it can ask and expect to GET such a privilege and honor from the State.  Businesses have the right to exist.  No one said they had the right to succeed: you are on your own at that.

When you get the right to succeed you also get the exact, same, right to fail.

I see the US Constitution in the same manner.  Amendment I prohibits Congress from making any law to abridge the freedom of speech or the press, and that means that empowering existing, legacy media groups to continue when they have failed in their own endeavors is trodding on the right of others to enter the market to pick up the slack when these businesses FAIL.

No government has the place of putting itself in the position of deciding if a business should succeed or fail, as that is then a State decided enterprise, no matter who runs it.  With that you get power of position in the market and no need to change your sorry ways, and thus become a haven for corruption while seeking coercive means to retain that market position.  Giving monopolies is a very dicey thing for government, as granting one means that the business getting it now has no reason to compete, no reason to succeed and every reason to grind as much money out of you as possible.

These businesses had their wake-up call over a decade ago and hit the SNOOZE button and turned over in their joyous sleep of wealth that would be so easy to retain.  Now the coffee has turned to sludge at the bottom of the pot, the toast is flacid and the fried eggs at room temperature and they wake up to complain that breakfast has not been served?  It appears they missed the wake-up call... and now they ask for lunch, too?

Nothing is 'too big to fail'.

The very United States failed under the Articles of Confederation and nearly took the place down with it.

Tectonic stress causes failure, earthquakes and a shaking up of the surface of the planet, they are not too big to fail.

Hot magma from beneath the crust wells up and through the crust to burst through as volcanoes, thus the very crust of the planet is not too big to fail.

Our sun will exhaust itself and grow large turning this planet into a rocky cinder, and yet the very sun is not too big to fail.

Nor is our universe, whiling away for billions of years more, it will fail in ensuring that stars will exist and that energy will come from its origins and then that, too, will fail.

If the universe can fail, then so can the damned inefficient and ineffective industries that have their hands out for your hard earned cash.

I would recommend that the good people of Connecticut establish that they do NOT want a hereditary press guaranteed BY government to tell them what to think about events of the day.  That is the path to large scale failure that we barely evaded after the Articles of Confederation failed us as a Nation.  Better to let businesses die and let the citizenry gamble on new ideas than to but into an assured failure of State supported enterprises.

I will trust my fellow man far more than any government that seeks to do that.  At least I have the chance to figure out if a crook is trying to swindle me.  When government does, I have no choice at all.

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