First, do no harm, government

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).

  • It will be very disappointing if the Government chooses to do anything to support the current model and/or nothing to support emerging models. I liken it to the ice man petitioning Congress to buy more ice, subsidize delivery costs, and encumber the new electric refrigerators with regulations & fees… all for the purpose of preserving the ice box model.

    Everyone except the staunchest supporters of the current model would be better served if instead of working to help journalism survive the Internet age, we threw the support of Congress behind enabling journalism to thrive in the Internet age. Instead of working to preserve the old, work to support the development of enabling technology that will change everything.

    Bet that doesn’t happen though.


  • Andy Freeman

    > There’s no reason for media to have tax breaks (except, as other industries receive them, for innovation).

    Actually, there is no reason even then.

    With few exceptions, which I’ll get to, the govt subsidies etc don’t help and typically hurt the industry. They let people think that they can ignore economics. Since the subsidies are typically grabbed by folks good at grabbing subsidies, the money goes to the wrong people. However, their existence makes it harder on the right people.

    The exceptions almost all involve blowing things up, and even then it’s not clear that we aren’t paying far more than we should. (NASA was an exception for about 15 years and the space program still hasn’t recovered.)

    Govt can occasionally do basic science, but that’s about it.

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    Let us use our public airwaves any way we please.

  • Andy Freeman
  • Honestly, the Government would get so much more out of saving the newspaper industry than saving the auto industry. Newspapers disseminate information, which in a democracy is a great thing.

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