“I love newspapers. I worked in them for almost 25 years. But I’m not itching to bail out a business that is failing in large part because it was so transcendentally greedy in its monopoly era that it passed on every opportunity to survive against real financial competition. With a few exceptions, the newspaper industry essentially deserves to die at this point.”
Dan Gillmor’s recent article in Salon contains the preceding quote as he makes the point that directly subsidizing newspapers is a wrong-headed move. What he proposes instead is subsidizing the infrastructure of communication (broadband internet) and letting the free market determine the shape of journalism in the future. He compares this to the postal subsidies introduced in 1792 that helped establish a strong and free press in the United States.
Government should always be concerned with infrastructure. Railways, roads, and communication services have been critical to many of the economic surges of the last couple of centuries.
Unfortunately, current broadband providers (especially in Canada) are dastardly robber-barons with a virtual monopoly. They really are the last people who should get money from the government. On the other hand, Gillmor’s point still makes sense: legislate affordable broadband internet as a “basic” service available to all, just like provision of telephone service to outlying communities was a condition of CRTC licensing for Bell. That will be enough to grease the economic wheels and allow people to experiment with business models to support journalism and the ongoing maintenance of a free press.