A blog on the Web site of The Hill newspaper is running a post that suggests that President Obama is prepared to look at a bailout for the newspaper industry. The post has drawn quite rightly screams of outrage from readers, who wonder where all the bailouts are going to end. Actually, it isn’t clear, if you read closely the President’s remarks, that Obamawould endorse any direct government subsidies to ailing newspapers: all he seems to be saying is that there would be tax breaks for newspapers which converted themselves into non-profits — they would get those tax-breaks anyway, if they became non-profits.
The idea that papers should get direct government subsidies is an awful idea. There should be a separation between government and the press – or do we want the US press to end up as a Soviet press, or an Italian one for that matter. Like any commercial industry, the newspaper industry should stand on its own economic feet. Okay, I supported the bailout of the banks, but that was only because the whole house of capitalist cards would fall without government intervention.
Newspaper owners and management have a lot to blame themselves for — they failed on the whole to anticipate the consequences of the internet and still are failing to take advantage of what the internet can offer their businesses and they still seem not understand that they have to match up content with audiences. The Washington Post is only now planning to integrate its newspaper and Online divisions, something it should have done years ago as several British newspapers did, most notably the Telegraph Group. And newspaper managements still aren’t thinking straight about pay-walls for their Online content: many newspaper editors say all content should be paid for which would only see falling traffic and declining ad revenue.