The Ridiculous Newspaper Bailout Begins

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Folks who just a few days ago guffawed at the prospect of a newspaper bailout are already coming around to the idea after seeing politicians spring to action.

Yesterday, Sen. John Kerry held a hearing on the “Future or Journalism” — but we’ll just call it what is was: A hearing about a possible newspaper bailout.

See, politicians aren’t like us. When we get concerned about newspapers becoming “endangered species,” we talk about it or discuss it. When politicians do, they pass laws to deal with it. A hearing isn’t just an idle event.

Expert witnesses included Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, Dallas Morning News publisher James Moroney, and David Simon, creator of The Wire. (Simon’s anger towards the state of the newspaper industry, the Baltimore Sun in particular, runs so deep he ruined the last season of his amazing show to clumsily express his feelings about it.)

It’s not entirely ridiculous that the future of media is a matter worthy of a public debate like this. After all, the media is important to democracy and all that. But these particular hearings bring out the worst in politicians.

For one thing: Hello, it’s May 2009, and you’re starting this debate now? The eventual demise of big media was probably the second blog post ever written, years ago (the first was: Hello, this is my blog, not sure what I’ll say here or who’s reading this, here’s a picture of my goldfish…).

And for another, one gets the distinct impression that John Kerry’s interest mainly stems from the realisation that The Boston Globe is in a very real danger of shutting down. His interest in this subject is no different from the fact that politicians from Michigan are inordinately concerned with the auto industry.

For now, nobody will actually call the bailout a bailout. The current proposal has to do with letting papers be non-profits, more easily. At best that’ll help around the margins, but doesn’t solve anything fundamentally. The next step is some kind of national journalism fund or bank to help papers cross the bridge to a sustainable digital future. Just watch.

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