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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

 

The First Newspaper Bailout of 2009?*


— Photo By TJ Sullivan —
Attention Los Angeles Times, Rocky Mountain News, and any other great American newspapers flirting with death in 2009 ... a little paper in Bristol, Connecticut, might have found a path to salvation.

The only question is whether it's ethical.

It's help from the government, an idea that's been proposed by countless reporters, politicians and pundits in the past few months, though, until now, it's yet to progress from the idea stage into any hall of power.

The Connecticut Assembly may be the first to press the issue.

Reuters is reporting that state Assemblyman Frank Nicastro wants to keep his local paper, The Bristol Press, from closing.

He also wants to help The Herald in nearby New Britain.

As Nicastro says, "the media is a vitally important part of America."

But, having just gone through a historic presidential election during which one side repeatedly tried to bash and blame the media for its failings, this idea appears doomed, as it very well should be.

From the Reuters story:
Relying on government help raises ethical questions for the press, whose traditional role has been to operate free from government influence as it tries to hold politicians accountable to the people who elected them. Even some publishers desperate for help are wary of this route.

Providing government support can muddy that mission, said Paul Janensch, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and a former reporter and editor.

"You can't expect a watchdog to bite the hand that feeds it," he said.

As a reporter who turned down even the offer of coffee from any elected official I ever covered, it's impossible to fathom how newspapers can embrace government subsidies and still adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics. Nonetheless, there it is.

— TJ Sullivan in LA


*UPDATE 04:20 p.m. 01/01/2009: The accuracy of the Reuters story is being disputed by a single source, although there is no indication that any correction has been requested of Reuters, nor that the news service has even been contacted. Absent that, it might just be a non-denial denial.
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5 Comments:

Blogger Steve Collins said...

Neither Rep. Nicastro nor anyone at The Bristol Press is seeking a bailout for the paper. Read what's really going on at bristoltoday.com. But thanks for the publicity!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008 8:32:00 PM PST  
Blogger John Ettorre said...

It's unbelievable that it's come to this, isn't it, Teej (i'm trying out my gleaming new 2009 nickname for you)? I guess the glass half full here is that even the most dim-witted pol can understand how crucial a role newspapers play, and how utterly broken our whole system of government would be without them.

But public subsidies can NEVER be even a part of the answer. At least not subsidies voted and approved by any governing bodies. Direct subsidy via the public, as in public radio and TV, fine. But there's simply no way to take money from politicians and then cover them independently. No way, no how, not ever.

Thursday, January 1, 2009 9:28:00 AM PST  
Blogger TJ Sullivan said...

I'm with you 100 percent John.

All due respect to you, Steve, but whether it's cash, or a tax break, or other special consideration not afforded other taxpayers or businesses, the ethical issue remains. Whether you like the word bailout or not, it is what it is.

Thursday, January 1, 2009 12:14:00 PM PST  
Blogger Steve Collins said...

There is nothing under consideration for the papers that is not available to every other business in Connecticut.

Thursday, January 1, 2009 12:47:00 PM PST  
Blogger TJ Sullivan said...

Steve, I don't intend to fence or to be disrespectful, but that which you present as fact is disputed by the Reuters story, which states the following:

Nicastro and fellow legislators want the papers to survive, and petitioned the state government to do something about it. "The media is a vitally important part of America," he said, particularly local papers that cover news ignored by big papers and television and radio stations.

To some experts, that sounds like a bailout, a word that resurfaced this year after the U.S. government agreed to give hundreds of billions of dollars to the automobile and financial sectors.

Thursday, January 1, 2009 4:01:00 PM PST  

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