(Cross-posted from the MS&L blog, The PR FinishLine – http://prfinishline.blogspot.c…
The headlines are cascading in about the impending demise of newspapers. The headlines have been particularly breathless in the very papers on the bubble – particularly The Boston Globe, which seems intent to cover its travails in an almost apologetic fashion (Saturday’s “explainer” on the lifetime job guarantees is the latest example).
Enter Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Kerry announced he will be holding hearings next week on Capitol Hill on the fate of newspapers. Cardin wrote in The Washington Post about his bill, which would allow news companies to obtain non-profit status.
Critics pounced. “Reporters and editors are supposed to be wary skeptics of politicians and bureaucrats on behalf of readers – not beholden to the government’s favor,” said Ken McIntyre of the conservative Heritage Foundation, via Fox. (These critics, much like communications and PR professionals, wouldn’t have much of a soapbox if not for the media, but that’s a post for another day).
Oddly, other media also pounced. “I think it really puts the role of censor or critic with the IRS,” said George Rahdert, legal counsel for the St. Petersburg Times. “So the IRS would be able to say, ‘This isn’t fair or critical reporting.'” You’d think The Times wasn’t living in the same, sad world of every other newspaper. But it is.
Cardin’s bill may not be the perfect answer. Kerry’s hearings on the Hill won’t solve all the problems. And both might raise new questions. It is certainly fair, for instance, to question whether newspaper rescue bills amount to attempts to curry favor with influential reporters, columnists and editors. (You can expect a sizable portion of patronizing rhetoric this Friday at a “Save the Globe” rally scheduled for noon at Faneuil Hall). For Kerry, given some of the whacks he has taken from the Globe, I don’t think it’s entirely fair to claim he is sucking up.
It gets pretty sticky when the media becomes the story, and newspaper owners cannot afford to discourage debate by pols, pundits or folks in the cheap seats.
Newsrooms and their back office IT divisions have had more than 20 years to adapt their business models to the emergence of the Internet as a magnet of news, information and advertising. They should have started scrambling in September 2002, when Google News launched. They didn’t try nearly as hard as they could.
It’s time to encourage a full public debate on the future of the news industry. For newspaper owners and employees, it’s time to ask for, and welcome, some help.