These recent comments from Representative Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.) reported by Breitbart.com raise the specter of a future bailout for the newspaper industry:
The newspapers my generation has taken for granted are facing a structural threat to the business model that has sustained them … The loss of revenue has spurred a vicious cycle with thousands of journalists losing their jobs … While this has implications for the media it also has implications for democracy … A vigorous free press and vigorous democracy have been inextricably linked … We cannot risk the loss of an informed public and all that means because of this market failure.
His comments became more troubling when he added the following:
… as we look at these various solutions, government’s going to have to be involved in one way or the other … Eventually, government is going to have to be responsible to help resolve these issues and our whole society depends very much on reaching some resolution of the problem.
Waxman seems to view saving newspapers as saving free speech. Really, saving newspapers would just be saving one particular mode of free speech that is, amid technological advances, quickly becoming a relic of the past.
Consumers have decided to get more of their news from other outlets like television and the internet. Free speech is still alive and well on those outlets. Bailing out newspapers would just be propping up a failing business model.
But politicians seem to love bailouts — mainly because it gives them more control over those they bailout. And the danger of government controlling media is clear. So, instead of overtly saying they want more control over speech, they appeal to values like “vigorous democracy” and an “informed public.”
But the public can be informed and democracy can be maintained just as well by digital news articles as they can by news in print. A large number of consumers have chosen to go with the newer, more efficient medium. Some politicians, as usual, have chosen more control.