Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saving the Newspaper

The debate on saving the newspaper continues to flourish, even as newspapers continue to shut down or shrink their newsrooms. An interesting new entry appears in The Nation this week -- John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers." From the story:
Blame has been laid first and foremost on the Internet, for luring away advertisers and readers, and on the economic meltdown, which has demolished revenues and hammered debt-laden media firms. But for all the ink spilled addressing the dire circumstance of the ink-stained wretch, the understanding of what we can do about the crisis has been woefully inadequate. Unless we rethink alternatives and reforms, the media will continue to flail until journalism is all but extinguished. . . .

What to do about newspapers? Let's give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers. The newspapers would have to publish at least five times per week and maintain a substantial "news hole," say at least twenty-four broad pages each day, with less than 50 percent advertising. In effect, this means the government will pay for every citizen who so desires to get a free daily newspaper subscription, but the taxpayer gets to pick the newspaper--this is an indirect subsidy, because the government does not control who gets the money. This will buy time for our old media newsrooms--and for us citizens--to develop a plan to establish journalism in the digital era. We could see this evolving into a system to provide tax credits for online subscriptions as well.
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers," The Nation, 6 April 2009.

To keep up with this story, have a look especially at The Columbia Journalism Review and the large set of reports and working papers from the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

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