In 2009 the Federal Trade Commission began a project to “consider the challenges faced by journalism in the Internet age.”
A year later they've come back with their “draft recommendations,” which are “only for the purposes of discussion.”
Color me concerned.
“Journalism is moving through a significant transition in which business models are crumbling, innovative new forms of journalism are emerging, and consumer news habits are changing rapidly.”
The document reads in part, and points out that newspaper advertising revenue, which pays the majority of the costs of producing the paper, have dropped some 45% in the last 10 years as new media, such as this blog, talk radio and 24 hour news networks have cut into their funding.
The upshot is of course, many newspapers are failing, newsroom staffs are cut and cut some more – interestingly enough upper management and often middle management don't seem to take those cuts, just the “non revenue producing” folks who actually gather the news, which is why subscribers read the thing in the
In fact, it's mostly the large metro dailies which find themselves in trouble. Along with the huge media conglomerates which own them. Most are leveraged to the hilt and it's not declining advertising revenue which is killing them but unmanageable debt.
But I digress.
It's no surprise to anyone that old bastions of the business are failing. The New York Times is a long way from profitable. Many other major market papers are failing, The Seattle Post-Inteligencer cut its print product entirely and is now web only – and doing quite well as an aside.
All this is a bit concerning for some one like me who has spent most of his adult life in the print newspaper business and considers himself a journalist of the old school. I got into this business because I loved it, and I stay in it, because I love it.
What the FTC is proposing however concerns me far more.
It is nothing less than a government takeover of the Fourth Estate in the name of “saving it.”
The report suggests things such as:
Changes in law such as additional intellectual property rights to support claims against news aggregators.
Changes in copyright law to protect “hot news,” to protect the “underlying facts” of a story from use by others for a limited period of time.
Industry-wide licensing arrangements such as are used by record companies and the movie industry.
Fox News reported several others:
The creation of a "journalism" division of AmeriCorps, the federal program that places 75,000 people with local and national nonprofit groups annually.
Providing grants to universities to conduct investigative journalism.
Tax credits to news organizations for every journalist employed.
A 5 percent tax on consumer electronics, which would generate roughly $4 billion annually, to pay for increased public funding.
I'm certain the bean counters in the corporate offices of the New York Times would love to see some of these proposals pass.
So would many of the progressives in the Administration.
A free and unfettered press is essential to our experiment in freedom.
The things the FTC proposes would see that end.
Worse they would set the stage, if not create outright, the sort of state controlled media we used to decry in the Soviet bloc.
I realize in many ways we have that now in all but name, but there remains at present at least some hope my colleagues will wake up and realize what's become of them.
Fox News reports Jeff Jarvis, an associate professor at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, saying; “The problem with this is that the FTC is trying to set an agenda here, that some sort of government intervention is necessary. It's a power grab by the FTC and it's also an example of one old power structure circling its wagons around another."
Should the recommendations in this “draft proposal” come to pass it will be the death knell of journalism in America.
For all the bias of the current mainstream media, they at least do not get their paychecks from the government. They can and sometimes do, still actually do their job.
The few honest journalists left, the guys in the trenches like me. Overworked, underpaid professionals who just want to get the story right will not accept the restrictions that would come with this. We want to report the news – it's hard to do that when a federal bureaucrat is telling you what to write.