On Saving ‘the News’

July 21, 2022

IF YOU LIKED what Washington has done for health care, mail delivery and Indian reservations, you’ll love how it plans to save local journalism.

First, “journalism” should be in scare quotes. What we have today has nothing to do with the more than five centuries since Martin Luther began printing pamphlets. It most resembles Izvestia, part of a propaganda system developed in the Soviet Union a hundred years ago.

Izvestia was the lesser of the Soviet propaganda organs. Pravda, the other national publications, came straight from the bowels of the Communist Party while Izvestia was more subtle. An Izvestia reporter told me over beers that his paper was not only more free than Pravda but more free than any U.S. paper.

How so? Izvestia could print the truth and not just what capitalist advertisers told it to print. You will have a hard time finding a journalist today who is offended by that position. Certainly no one on the staff of our Indianapolis Star. They are enthusiastic about Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.”

That enthusiasm has nothing to do with journalism, competition or its preservation. Rather, it is because the Star and its parent Gannett have become aware that their incessant lecturing about social justice, white supremacy, gun control, economic redistribution and so forth has left them without sufficient numbers of paying subscribers. Now their corporate owners want the federal government to save their sorry elitist butts.

Richard Nixon, courting the presidential endorsement of metro newspapers, did something similar when he signed the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 authorizing the formation of joint operating agreements among competing newspapers within the same market area. It, too, exempted newspapers from certain provisions of antitrust laws, allowing them to fix prices and keep out competition (The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette was an early beneficiary.)

The rationale? Here are the authors of a recent Northwestern University “study” shaming you for canceling your subscription:

“Strong local news helps us understand those whose experiences and attitudes are different from us, and, in the process, brings us together to solve our most pressing political, economic and social problems. It binds our vast nation of 330 million people together, nurturing both democracy and community. Everyone in the country has a stake in the future of local news, in whatever form it is delivered.”

And here is the introduction to Star/Gannett editorial earlier this week:

“A devastating trend: Local newspapers are shrinking or disappearing. Congress must act. Stop the hemorrhage in local newsrooms and provide tools for long-term stability. America’s democracy depends on it.”

Are you following this? The distant owners of your “local” newspaper want Congress to mandate a system that prevents the free market (hometown investors) from supplanting the corporate product. Klobuchar would do that by allowing Gannett and other chains to organize as a cartel and sidestep antitrust laws in their dealings with giant national news platforms and publishers (Google, the New York Times and the like).

Mike Rispoli, a critic of the proposed law, makes our point:

“Building a more robust and diverse noncommercial media sector is the best remedy for what ails journalism. We can help journalism most through the sort of innovation already beginning to happen in the nonprofit and local-media sectors, not with legislation that seek to jolt new life into the big-media companies that have already failed us.”

By the way, Izvestia means “the news.” You’ll need to know that. — tcl


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