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Home News-Telegram News Editorials MEDIA BAILOUT: Government must stay out of journalism

MEDIA BAILOUT: Government must stay out of journalism

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It's no secret that the mainstream media — newspapers, radio and television — are going through trying times. The rapidly changing technological world, coupled with an ever-increasing busy lifestyle (and a struggling economy) have hit media outlets hard.

It is a challenge, no doubt. But it is one challenge that doesn't need government intervention.

The new media consumer wants two things: The news to come immediately and to come free. Yes, the "old-school" diehards are still around, those who like holding a newspaper, listen to local radio instead of satellite radio and wait around for the 10 p.m. news. But the "new-school" consumers are different. They surf the web — and they expect it to be fast and free. That is a challenge for media outlets that still have to pay the bills.

The government now says it may want to help. Help from the government, however, rarely works as intended.

The Federal Trade Commission recently released a "staff discussion draft" that outlined potential policy recommendations to "support the reinvention of journalism." Right off the bat that sounds like a bad idea. Some of the ideas thrown about by the FTC include — no surprise here — regulation and taxation to benefit the media. A newspaper bailout? No thank you.

The FTC staffers also discussed such ideas as establishing a national fund for local news, employing AmeriCorps to train journalists, tax credits for each journalist employed and grants to universities to conduct investigative journalism. To pay for all this "relief," the FTC considered a possible 5 percent surcharge on consumer electronics (raising some $4 billion a year) or a 3 percent tax on monthly ISP-cell phone fees ($6 billion annually).

It is a bad deal for consumers and a bad deal for media outlets.

Government money comes with strings attached. And journalism only works when there are no strings. The two simply don't fit together. It doesn't take much imagination to picture Washington calling the New York Times and threatening to freeze the government handouts if a particular damaging story is run. That is not how a free media works.

Challenging times or not, it is up to each media outlet to adapt. The News-Telegram's online presence, www.mySSnews.com, was invented to meet these challenges. It is fast, it is interactive and it is free and has been cited by the Associated Press as a model community newspaper website. And it will only get better in the coming months as new innovation brings the news to consumers in new ways.

That is how media outlets survive. Better service, better news and better innovation. Not government bailouts.

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