Newspaper subsidy? Try this…

Want to subsidize news, newspapers, and journalism? I have an idea I could stand behind. But it’s not this: Nicolas Sarkozy has given France’s newspapers a €600million subsidy over three years—including a free subscription for every 18-year-old Frenchman—on top of the €280 per year it gives them now. The U.K. is dancing around the topic of government support for regional papers. And the argument over government bailout of papers is simmering in the U.S.

Danger, danger, Will Robinson. I don’t want government interfering with news and speech (he who giveth may taketh away). And I’m not at all sure that it’s newspapers that should be the beneficiaries of subsidy; they have not given journalism responsible stewardship in the last decade and a half.

But here’s a government subsidy I can get behind: broadband and technology development. An investment there will do more for the future of news than any dollar, euro, or pound given to keep presses rolling.

* If the Obama Administration gets the entire country on broadband, news organizations will have a much larger public to serve online than they have now in print. They will be able to expand coverage through collaboration. They will be free to use rich media for compelling news experiences.

* Advertisers will have no excuse but to go online, when most everyone is there and when it can serve rich media beyond the banner.

* Investment in technology development and entrepreneurship in media—with tax breaks and direct subsidy—will also create rich new experiences and will create jobs, new wealth, and the potential for more export of media as well as demand for better education.

* Tax breaks for the poor to subsidize computer purchases—which are now inexpensive enough to contemplate—will end arguments about the digital divide and will create at least some jobs in the U.S. industry. A goal of 100-percent-connected youth will also improve educational opportunities and, in the long run, reduce the cost of textbooks and curricular materials, as a bonus.

* Providing media and internet literacy education—including not just the consumption but the creation of media—will do more than a year’s newspaper subscription to assure a next generation of discerning news users and citizens.

The net result will be a much healthier news industry built on a new platform in new ways for the future. This is a better investment in an informed society than bailouts, subscriptions—or, for that matter, pothole repairs.

  • Walter Abbott

    Except, Jeff, government WILL try and control internet content. All in the context of “fairness” don’t you see.

    When has government NOT tried to control information distribution? See “printing press” and “Henry VIII” and the “Roman Catholic Church” Also see “Federal Communications Commission” and the “Fairness Doctrine.”

    And trust me, you would be one of the first ones that would be silenced – tyranny cannot stand independent thought. Notice how all your former “journalist” buddies turned on you when you dared suggest they were at fault for not anticipating the changes they’re going through.

  • man i wish they would tell me what is going on, becuase there is a big difference between spending and a stimulus, I wish somebody would Gimme $785 Billion

  • Andy Freeman

    > Tax breaks for the poor to subsidize computer purchases—which are now inexpensive enough to contemplate—will end arguments about the digital divide and will create at least some jobs in the U.S. industry.

    Neither one will happen. The digital divide is an argument about results which may, or may not, have anything to do with “computer access”. (Since a huge fraction of the population has video games, it’s hard to see why giving them computers will change things.)

    And, computers aren’t made in the US, so there’s no jobs angle either.

  • Isn’t this argument substantially at odds with your general posture of inevitability and marketplace superiority for web delivery? Why would advertisers need government spending to leave them “no excuse” for spending if its a superior medium?

    I’m for media literacy education by all means, wherever possible. And broadband subsidies make some sense in rural areas (I know; I’m a HughesNet victim) but in fact vast majority of US homes now have access to broadband, and cable is I believe poised to achieve fiber optic speeds.

    But I wonder if your affection for this spending plan isn’t based more on what you like than what makes sense?

  • RobLevine

    >>>Tax breaks for the poor to subsidize computer purchases—which are now inexpensive enough to contemplate—will end arguments about the digital divide and will create at least some jobs in the U.S. industry.

    How many computers get made in the U.S.? And of those that do, how many of the components in them are made in the U.S.?

    What does get made in the U.S. is intellectual property – not only news, but also music, movies, television programs and software – all of which broadband helps people steal. So far, the rise of broadband has made a very small number of people wealthy and a very large number of people unemployed.

    What you’re proposing may make sense for any number of reasons, but some of your specific assertions don’t make much sense at all.

    This, in particular, seems silly:

    >>>If the Obama Administration gets the entire country on broadband, news organizations will have a much larger public to serve online than they have now in print.

    Right now the entire country has television and yet the viewership of TV news keeps going down. The main problem with the market for journalism is that the average American doesn’t seem to want all that much information about the world he lives in in any medium in any style. We don’t live in a very well-informed society, and the rise of the Internet has not changed that.

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  • Bob

    I would much prefer the federal government concentrate on the responsibilities designated to it in the Constitution. Nowhere in it does it provide a mechanism for propping up the 4th estate let alone “investing” (read taxing citizens) in technology.

    We look to government to solve problems that are not its problems to solve. One can rationalize all the benefits solving problems will create; it still does not render it the federal government’s role.

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  • For me, part of the trick is to offer Government not straight hand-outs, but the chance to perfectly target CPM messaging/advertising via new, networked delivery platforms…

    … ones that weave in the technology that starts to prove – hopefully – that we, as journalists, ‘were there…’ ie you’re funding, local ‘beat’ reporters who are trying to stay at the coalface and not supporting those that earn a living off the efforts of others…

    http://outwithabang.rickwaghorn.co.uk/?p=229

  • Know what will happen?

    All news will go online – no print editions left.

    Then some bright spark will think, ‘Hey, you know what would be really cool? If we could get our online content in print form. People would be able to read in all sorts of places where there is no internet connection – like the bath! It can be cheap as well. Let’s call it…er….the Newspaper!’.

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  • Many replies to Jeff’s article seem to be worried about Government subsidizing the infrastructure of the Internet (Broadband specifically) in the US. How is that any different than subsidizing road construction. It is infrastructure – just like telephone and electrical power lines. We need to stop viewing the internet as only an information provider. The Internet provides transportation, housing, communication and just about everything else under the sun. And yes, it is currently being isolated (because of expense) to many corners of our Nation.

    Broadband doesn’t make anybody rich except those that choose to use it to make profits. The same argument was made over fifty years ago about how President Eisenhower was going to take down the train industry with the invention of the Interstate system – only a select few would get rich and everyone else would end up poor. The funny thing is that it did as advertised – but not because of why people think. The train industry failed simply because it never adapted to the needs of the market – just like today’s auto industry isn’t failing for the same reason.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not for any level of Government bail-out. I would rather simply see tax cuts to promote behavior like investment and growth, but if the Obama Administration is insistent on improving infrastructure like they say they are, I believe they should be focusing on the next century – not the past one. I don’t believe that it is roads and mass transportation needed – because there is no major demand. But there is demand – ludicrous demand for bandwidth – in every sector of the US.

    Unfortunately, that is not what’s going to happen. And it’s not going to happen, simply because the Obama’s vision has nothing to do with improving infrastructure (that’s just rhetoric) – it is simply about paying for jobs (at a rate in excess of $250,000 per job).

    If we are going to spend $1 Trillion Dollars to boost our economy, then prepare us for what’s ahead, a market that is rapidly becoming global – through the Web. Build infrastructure that matters.

  • I agree, these are investments in the wrong industry. Print has had overcapacity since the early nineties and has been declining steadily. This only means printers will have to foreclose at some point, or merge, or just quit. The market, especially newspapers is not going to grow bigger. I used to read newspapers, now I only buy them on weekends, because it’s old fashioned fun to sit at the kitchen table with coffee and a paper. When I need quick access to info or news, I turn to the internet.

    Personally I think the total one trillion dollar bailout would be best spent by throwing it out of multiple airplanes.

  • Imagine how much more new content would be created if everyone had broadband? There is already a completely commoditized CMS (blogger, twitter, anyone?) that has spurred a massive amount of new content by making it incredibly easy to publish. Couple that with ubiquitous broadband I picture a world of hundreds of thousands of hyperlocal placebloggers and mini-editorial groups springing up to cover what’s happening in the neighborhood. A guy can dream!

    • it’s not a dream mark, it’s the future and its coming fast

    • but who is going to fund expensive journalism? Bloggings great but there is no money in (nor ever will?) and good journalism needs good money behind it.

      • Sorry, I’ll try again: but who is going to fund expensive journalism? Blogging’s great but there is no money in it (nor ever will be?) and good journalism needs good money behind it.

  • Does broadband need a stimulus? Saul Hansell at the NYT Bits blog makes a pretty good argument that it does not.

    ” … as I look at it, the noise about a broadband gap is hooey. With new cable modem technology becoming available, 19 out of 20 American homes eventually will be able to have Internet service that is faster than any available now anywhere in the world. And that’s without one new cable being laid.”

    You can (and should) read his piece here: http://bit.ly/Q8T8

    It’s easy to see why Jeff Jarvis and Mark Josephson think public subsidy for broadband expansion would benefit them. It’s less clear why the rest of us should think so.

  • When newspapers stopped delivering news and only delivered opinion and advertising, I was no longer interested. I appreciate opinion when it is labeled as such. Many of us now get our news online because we can choose from whom, from where, and how many differing opinions we would like to read on any topic that interests us.

    Magazines, as opposed to newspapers, take a stand and appeal to specific audiences, just like web sites. I don’t think print media will go away immediately. First everyone must to be able to read their preferred type of information in a form that is lightweight and also easy to highlight and mark up. I don’t think it is far off.

  • AST

    Hey, these people are still producing buggy whips. It would make more sense for the government to buy everybody a Blackberry and free internet so they could read the news online.

    I’d love seeing the NYTimes contorting itself to justify taking government bailouts while defending press freedom.

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  • Andy Freeman

    > How is that any different than subsidizing road construction.

    Because road construction hasn’t led to restrictions on the point of view expressed by drivers.

    The folks pushing the public internet are promising content restrictions. Are they lying or wrong? If neither, are content restrictions an acceptable price to pay?

    Note that a huge fraction of the “off line” folks don’t want to be on-line. Are we going to force them?

  • jeff, it’s not really wired broadband we need. it’s mobile broadband and open devices and networks. think about the shot that guy on the ferry took of the US Air jet in the hudson river. or something more common but equally exciting as the walk off homer to win the little league championship

    http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2007/06/the_walk_off_ho.html

  • Joshua Mark

    Jeff brings up a great point here, but the fact is the Internet is still in it’s infancy; and there are many concerning questions that arise when we talk about Government subsidizing broadband infrastructure.

    First and foremost, every goverment infrastructure which is deemed necessary to society is inevitably taxed. This is a whole conversation in-and-of itself, but I think we’re not far away from it. Broadband is simply necessary to do business today, and in many ways, more so then retail space. And 40% of retail is predicted to close this year due to the economy. The auto industry is a classic example; in the past dealers need only compete with the classified ads and maybe a Thrifty Nickel or Green Sheet. Today, with all of their overhead, they struggle to break even versus Ebay, Craigslist, Vehix, and a host of other sourcing sites.

    Secondly, broadband providers now are approaching monopolistic status with the market share they currently hold. Ad another 20% of the population depending on a handfull of providers for information and you push the envelope. Then blend the next deployment of infrastructure such as BPL or WiFi, which either require a license to distribute, and you won’t have an army of start-ups lining up to compete at the next level. Only companies which have been in the game for decades and can afford the up front costs to distribute mass-medium over regulated frequencies. Right now it’s a fight for our home and wireless phones, cable, and Internet. Soon we may be faced with 2 or 3 national providers for electricity, video archive access (because every broadcast ever released will be available on-demand), Internet, Vmail, video phone, home security monitoring, feature films (as the theater’s will inevitably close along with the retail), video games, and concerts. No thank you.

    Lastly, the philosophical question remains even if we can; should we? With no clear regulation on this medium thus far, should we endlessly expand access of what we knowingly don’t control? Legal cases such as the MySpace suicide and the child pornography charges pending 6 teens in a Midwest high school caught with nude photos on their cell phones are just the beginning. Has our innundation of suggestive headlines in unsolicited emails warned us of nothing? We’re 3-5 years out from that text arriving in the form of a custom tailored video just for you of their product which promises to “Pleaaase Her All Nite Long”. We have an infinite number of cameras watching what we do everyday, and with The Grid technology we invite ourselves into a Nanny State. Today your ticket from running that red light arrives in the mail, next year its delivered to the IP6 address of your SUV with a courtesy photo of you on the phone and drinking your coffee, reminding you this is your third ticket and must be paid in 24 hours or you will not be allowed to fill your gas tank.

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  • I like the writer’s (simplistic) idea but he misses the point of why news is essential to democracy and why only a technological solution is flawed. John Pauly (media and communication scholar) writes an information society, (a) invests too much faith in technologies of communication rather than in the social commons; (b) imagines citizenship in overly individualistic terms by identifying personal satisfaction as a goal best achieved through technological innovation; (c) is not physically sustainable in the long run; and (d) badly misrepresents the actual social practice of democracy. He says that “journalism, conceived as a social practice rather than an industry or profession, might … serve as one model of responsible citizenship” (The Conversation of Journalism, 1995, pp. xiii-xv).

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