Thursday, May 20, 2010

Save the media? Let us count the ways

Adam Thierer wants to save us journalists from bailouts and welfare.

Um, OK (but, honestly, either might come in handy about now).

Thierer, president of The Progress & Freedom Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, has been railing for some months about keeping the federal government's thumb print off any plans to save mainstream media, especially those that would offer a financial hand.

In fact, along with other PFF staff, he has written several essays under the umbrella title "The Wrong Way to Reinvent the Media." (You can listen to a podcast overview of the issue here.)

It's Essay 5, "Media Bailouts & Welfare for Journalists" that has me packing up my tin cup.

As you know, the bottom dropped out of big-media's business model, resulting in massive belt-tightening and layoffs. Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission all have been looking into whether the cutbacks are temporary or permanent, and whether they could threaten democracy's core.

As a result, all kinds of proposals have been floated to prop up "old media" until they adapt to "new media" ways, including things like news vouchers that would allow consumers to apportion a government-funded subsidy to their favorite media outlet.

Thierer's group, which isn't keen on any of the ideas offered, today hosted a panel discussion in D.C. on this question: "Can Government Help Save the Press?" His Essay 5 was one of the handouts I picked up at the event.

The panel itself ran the spectrum of viewpoints on what role government might play. A couple of media lawyers want the FTC and FCC -- both now studying the economic threats to big media -- to "be bold" in whatever proposals they may endorse. Others, also lawyers, see any role by government to aid the press as clashing with the First Amendment -- or, as one put it, "Subsidies invite censorship."

(A podcast of the two-hour event is here.)

In the end, there was no consensus on how or even whether government can help save the press. Which is too bad, since I'm having my own economic issues (no paycheck) while pundits inside and outside government ponder media's (and my) future.

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