With everyone else putting out their hands, it was only a matter of time before the purveyors of old-fashioned news periodicals joined their voices in the chorus:
Connecticut lawmaker Frank Nicastro sees saving the local newspaper as his duty. But others think he and his colleagues are setting a worrisome precedent for government involvement in the U.S. press.
Nicastro represents Connecticut’s 79th assembly district, which includes Bristol, a city of about 61,000 people outside Hartford, the state capital. Its paper, The Bristol Press, may fold within days, along with The Herald in nearby New Britain.
To some experts, that sounds like a bailout, a word that resurfaced this year after the U.S. government agreed to give hundreds of billions of dollars to the automobile and financial sectors.
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.
Former Miami Herald Editor Tom Fiedler said that a democracy has an obligation to help preserve a free press.
“I truly believe that no democracy can remain healthy without an equally healthy press,” said Fiedler, now dean of Boston University’s College of Communication. “Thus it is in democracy’s interest to support the press in the same sense that the human being doesn’t hesitate to take medicine when his or her health is threatened.”
A few thoughts regarding these newspapers: 1) This is only the beginning of media requests for flotation devices; 2) It absolutely is a bailout, no matter how the assistance is obfuscated; and 3) A democratic republic does need a healthy press, Mr. Fiedler. That is why the newspapers are dying. Most of them are not healthy and will never be healthy (like the Detroit automakers) unless they completely rethink/reengineer their approach to business.
A few suggestions for these newspapers: 1) Report the news (and keep the commentary separate); 2) Spend less than you earn; and 3) Realize that the time has come when you are yourselves the object of much scrutiny. Accountability? It’s a sword that cuts both ways.