It’s not a bailout, it’s patronage

Reuters the other day had a widely-circulated piece about the prospects for newspapers getting a piece of the bailout action. And why shouldn’t they? Everyone goes on about how vital papers are to democracy, to sustaining vibrant local communities, to telling the stories that the bloggers and aggregators don’t have the skills or resources to tackle. And maybe that’s true, in which case: If the auto industry is too big to fail, maybe print journalism is Too Important To Fail?

Yeah maybe, though I’m not convinced. In general, I tend to agree with Claude Lamoureux, formerly of Ontario Teachers Pension Plan:

Q How are we going to get out of this?

A I’m not a big fan of the government bailout.

Q What’s the alternative? Should companies such as big banks and GM and Ford be left to fail?

A There’s CCAA, these laws worked 20 years ago. That’s the beauty of the capitalist system. If a company doesn’t have demand for its product, it has to go out of business. Bailouts remove discipline from the economy.

Of course, the newspaper situation is a bit different. There’s plenty of demand for the product — publishers have just decided to stop charging people for it. Still, the point remains: Stupid business models should be allowed to die, no matter how Big or Important the industry.

But there’s an interesting angle in the Reuters piece, which is that the newsbusiness might be uniquely unsuited for receiving government handouts:

Relying on government help raises ethical questions for the press, whose traditional role has been to operate free from government influence as it tries to hold politicians accountable to the people who elected them. Even some publishers desperate for help are wary of this route.

Providing government support can muddy that mission, said Paul Janensch, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and a former reporter and editor.

“You can’t expect a watchdog to bite the hand that feeds it,” he said

So here’s some homework for the reader. Compare and contrast the ethics of a newspaper receiving a bailout from the government, and a longtime Parliament Hill journalist accepting an appointment to the Senate.

Further Reading: Jim Pinkerton over at Fox news.

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