Fear of a free media.

It’s astounding that the congress is considering legislation to prop up the flagging newspaper industry.

Some of the ideas bandied about include providing tax breaks for businesses who choose to advertise in newspapers, and tax breaks for newspapers to help defray the costs associated with producing a printed product.

I suppose that in the absence of any alternative, saving newspapers would make sense. But if you take the newspapers’ arguments at face value, there is an alternative — an alternative newspaper companies claim is destroying their business.

Not only do people use newspaper websites, but they tend to read more of their news on newspaper websites than on independent blogs or other online sources. The problem newspapers have generating money, then, is that they haven’t found a way to move the advertising dollars they used to get for their print products into their online products, where the audience is migrating.

Why, then, would Congress provide tax breaks for people who advertise in a five-century-old medium, when a better result would likely come from providing tax breaks for those who advertise with online news services?

News organizations don’t need money to keep printing; they need money to employ journalists. If they cut out the physical plant costs, the presses, the ink and the paper, and publish purely online, they’d need a lot fewer ad dollars. It’s a question of changing your business model to better serve your audience.

Congress shows no concern about bloggers and indepenedent online news services. There are no tax incentives for advertising on my website. Wouldn’t Congress rather be on the leading edge, rather than prolonging the inevitable? Wouldn’t our elected representatives rather see the success of a fledgling industry? What about the environmental impact of printing newspapers? Paper doesn’t grow on trees, you know. And transporting all that paper and delivering the finished products means burning fossil fuels, right? 

Congress doesn’t want to prop up the Internet because, like advertising agencies, they haven’t quite figured it out yet. They still don’t know whether this thing is going to take off. And, frankly, I think they’re afraid of what happens when everyone — including guys like me — can blast their opinions and discoveries to the world. And I think they’re afraid of a world where they don’t have a set number of journalists they can control and sculpt their messages through.

But maybe that’s just my opinion. And all I can go by is their actions. And right now I’m learning a lot more by listening to the thing they aren’t talking about: a way to help news organizations make money online.


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