Tax breaks (not bailouts) for newspapers
I ran a story on New Year’s Eve about the opportunities and perils that could face struggling newspapers if they end up surviving because of government help. I opened the story with the tale of Connecticut state lawmakers and a state commissioner who are trying to find someone to buy two Journal Register-owned dailies and several weeklies that are going to be shut down in January if they can’t be saved. From there, I explored the ramifications of government aid to newspapers.
The story got plenty of attention, though it looks like misinterpretation was rife. Many bloggers and news sources portrayed the Connecticut situation as a bailout, leading to plenty of ire directed at the lawmakers and the story. (Some conservative bloggers hinted that we deliberately omitted the lawmakers’ affiliation. For the record — they are Democrats. Also for the record: I had that in there, then deleted it, intending to put it somewhere else in the story. Then I plum forgot. No hidden agenda.)
So here’s what I’m expecting next and here’s what I still don’t know or understand. I’m eager to hear from folks who care about the future of newspapers in the United States to add their thoughts in the comments section.
- My sources in the journalism world tell me that the U.S. newspaper business won’t be pushing federal lawmakers for a bailout like the auto and finance industries. Why? They don’t like the idea of having the government as a shareholder when their job is to expose what the government does as a way of keeping it honest. Still, the story might change. If anyone hears about something like that in the works, please tell me. I’m anxious to find out.
- Will the situation in Connecticut be replicated elsewhere around the country? I wonder.
- The politicians whom I spoke to emphasized that this is not a bailout, but an attempt to lure business with tax breaks, the same way other businesses get courted. Still, I wonder: If you award tax breaks as a way to get publishers to keep a newspaper from dying, isn’t that shifting the tax burden to others? And if that is so, then how is that different from essentially handing over money? I don’t know, but I’m curious.
Folks, this may be a big culling year for U.S. newspapers. Debt is heavy, ad revenue is down and it may be the end of the line for newspaper journalism in this country as we know it. It’ll be an often depressing story to cover, but it also will be exciting and strange. If you’re an employee of a U.S. newspaper and you hear that something is going on, we want to know about it. Drop us a line. Thanks and “Happy” New Year.
PS – Journal Register has gone stone cold silent about its restructuring, its newspapers and any attempts to survive. And the whole company is still worth less than my little house in Jersey City.