Relevant to today’s FTC workshops (read: hearings) on the “survival” (their word… I would have said “rebirth:) of journalism in the internet age, Geoffrey Cowan and David Westphal issue a good set of principles for government involvement (read: meddling or support):
First and foremost, do no harm. A cycle of powerful innovation is under way. To the extent possible, government should avoid retarding the emergence of new models of newsgathering.
Second, the government should help promote innovation, as it did when the Department of Defense funded the research that created the Internet or when NASA funded the creation of satellites that made cable television and direct TV possible.
Third, for commercial media, government-supported mechanisms that are content neutral — such as copyright protections, postal subsidies and taxes — are preferable to those that call upon the government to fund specific news outlets, publications or programs.
I disagree about their conclusion: that government has always supported media (with postal discounts, legal notices, tax breaks) and that should continue. I disagree on principle and as a practical matter. Postal discounts are in force for many – including junk mailers – and in any case they become less relevant when news isn’t printed. Legal notices, I believe, should go online in standard data forms and feeds, making them more available to more people, giving us a permanent record of them, and – critically – saving taxpayers money. There’s no reason for media to have tax breaks (except, as other industries receive them, for innovation).