Reinvention, not rescue

I doubt it will get very far, but there’s another well-meaning but ultimately dangerous attempt to provide a government rescue for newspapers: a bill to enable papers to switch to not-for-profit, tax-free status from Sen. Benjamin Cardin. “A Cardin spokesman said the bill had yet to attract any co-sponsors, but had sparked plenty of interest within the media.” Yeah, I’ll bet. It’s doubtful that taxpayers will want to help bail out newspapers, too.

The obvious danger is government certifying what is and isn’t news and who does and doesn’t do it. Should my blog get to be a tax-free, not-for-profit enterprise? Who gets certified? Further, Cardin’s proposal also would forbid papers as charities from endorsing political candidates. That takes more voices out of the democracy. Not good.

But the real danger here is that these rescue attempts delay the inevitable. The sooner that papers reinvent themselves for the new age, the better. If this delays that inevitability, papers will only languish in the past and others will come and overtake them.

This is the problem, too, with the auto bailout and even the banking bailout. We are bailing out the past, not the future. We are forestalling the need to change. Change isn’t easy. It’s hard on people. It’s destructive. It will leave voids and vacuums. But it is inevitable. The smart thing to do today is to run to the change, seek it out, find the opportunities in it, deal with the hard problems it brings instead of avoiding them.