Monday, March 30, 2009

Should We Save The Failing Newspaper Industry?

A new bill introduced on Tuesday seeks to extend nonprofit status to the failing newspaper industry providing newspaper companies with a variety of tax breaks.

The new bill entitled the Newspaper Revitalization Act which was introduced by Democratic senator Senator Benjamin Cardin yesterday. The bill would allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, giving them a similar status to public broadcasting companies. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt, and contributions to support news coverage or operations could be tax deductible.

The senator cited the recent closures of two newspapers Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News,and announcements from the Baltimore Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others, that they may have to stop publishing in introducing the bill.

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"Under this arrangement, newspapers would not be allowed to make political endorsements, but would be allowed to freely report on all issues, including political campaigns," he said. "Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax deductible."

The measure is targeted to preserve local newspapers serving communities and not large newspaper conglomerates. Because newspaper profits have been falling in recent years, no substantial loss of federal revenue is expected.

“We are losing our newspaper industry,” said Senator Cardin. “The economy has caused an immediate problem, but the business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy. While we have lots of news sources, we rely on newspapers for in-depth reporting that follows important issues, records events and exposes misdeeds. In fact, most if not all sources of journalistic information – from radio to television to the Internet – gathers their news from newspaper reporters who cover the news on a daily basis and know their communities. It is in the interest of our nation and good governance that we ensure they survive.”

But is it really in the interest of the community or the interest of the people to save a failing medium. Newspapers have seen steadily declining circulation and the migration of readers to free news online for years so why would things suddenly be any different. The instant reporting capabilities of the internet and TV have pretty much killed the need for a print based media. Who wants to read yesterdays printed news when we are reading it happen as its happening?

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On the face of it this bill would equate to nothing more than government charity, bailing out yet another business that has failed to keep up with the times. Why only save the news, why not save magazines as well? We see no such handout heading towards the magazine industry that is by the way heading down the same road.

Of course this bailout really doesn't mean much in terms of actual cash value to the tax payer. The companies can hardly stay afloat now as it is. Sp assuming they continue to run at "business as usual" and don't turn things around tax payers wouldn't loose out on incoming taxes. After all you don't make much in tax from a company that isn't making money.

I appreciate the way things used to be done and of course the history behind the newspaper. But I have to wonder why we seek to hold on to the past when we should be embracing the future. Let the industry die, it has been dying a slow painful death for several years. Lets move forward into the new age of e-news, when its happeing, where its happening.

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