Nichols and McChesney lay out the dire situation faced by modern newspapers--shuttered bureaus, gutted staffs, and profit-minded focus on fluff rather than hard news (that reminds me: What has Octomom been doing lately?). We see some of the results today: major cities with no major newspapers to contribute to public life.
The authors trace this predicament to a generation preceding the internet age. They add that today's economic woes alone do not account for the struggles faced by newspapers. For these authors, the return of conglomerates, vaster and more intricate even than the Gilded Age trusts, helped doom the independent press. The result? "We are entering historically uncharted territory in America, a country that from its founding has valued the press not merely as a watchdog but as the essential nurturer of an informed citizenry."
Nichols and McChesney offer a solution that they readily admit will inspire a knee-jerk reaction by some folks: Federal subsidies. A bailout for journalists. A sort of infrastructure stimulus plan for the Fourth Estate.
Anticipating the howls from both the Left and the Right (mostly from the Right, I presume) about government interference in the free press, Nichols and McChesney note that the U.S. government has always subsidized the press in one form or another, through reduced-rate mail to revenue-enhancing public notices, not to mention the reservation of some of the electronic spectrum to the "public good." And even amid our current fiscal difficulties, enhanced support for a free press can hardly come at too dear a price, they say. What do they propose?
Nichols and McChesney conclude that the total pricetag should be around $60 billion over the next three years. What do you think? Are they onto something? Or are they ignoring the inevitable?
Read the entire article: The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers
March 24, 2009 update: Reuters reports that Senator Benjamin Cardin has proposed an amendment to allow newspapers to gain tax breaks by becoming non-profits - and losing their ability to make political endorsements: U.S. bill seeks to rescue faltering newspapers