I keep hearing on the internets that journalism is in trouble and is in need of “saving”. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…the Feds? No seriously.
Ideas on the table include waiving antitrust statutes to allow newspapers to all charge for online content at once, taxing iPads and other e-readers, establishing a government fund to pay young journalists to do…something and allowing newspapers to charge aggregators for linking to their content.
If these are the solutions proposed, it’s pretty easy to see what the problem REALLY is. Journalism isn’t what they’re trying to save here – it’s newspapers. And not just any newspapers – the government is trying to prop up a defiantly anti-evolutionary business model supported by big corporations who can actually afford to save themselves if they’d be willing to make a little less profit.
These solutions would do far more harm than good for journalism. They seek to punish those innovative individuals and news organizations that are trying – and sometimes failing – to do business a new way in order to survive. But at least they’re trying.
Allowing big, established publications to break all the rules would push the online startups and hardworking bloggers out of business – and for what? To make sure the Gannetts of the world are still able to pay out big dividends to shareholders? To create throwaway jobs for young journalists who can and should be paid by the news organizations that currently make money off their free work?
More importantly, this kind of move seeks to take choice away from the American people. Newspaper readership isn’t down because the Internet “steals” their product – it’s because readers have chosen to get news elsewhere. News consumers want to read news online, on Twitter, on mobile devices and iPads. Some would just rather hear about what’s going on from a favorite blogger or a friend on Facebook than a 600-word news article. Forcing people to pay for news from newspapers doesn’t make information more accessible – and THAT should be the goal of any government intervention.
Journalism is doing fine – it’s only old media that needs a lifeline. The government can study all they want – and, by all means, they can go ahead and start offering bribes – er, subsidies and new statutes – to aid news organizations. But anyone who takes this money has no business calling themselves journalists anymore. “Ministers of Information” may be more appropriate.