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.