Peter Preston, writing in today’s Observer, is the latest in a long line of increasingly desperate journalists begging government to subsidise the newspaper industry. In Preston’s case, he argues for a tax of around £50 p.a. on broadband connections.
I’m not going to beat around the bush: the idea is ludicrous.
Of course, as Preston points out, news reporting is an important component of a democratic society, however, the reality is that much of the ‘news’ in our newspapers is actually rewritten agency copy. All too often these days, the only value a newspaper’s journalists add is their (or their proprietor’s) opinion, and that’s not worth £50 a year of my money when I can get less-biased or better-informed opinion straight from the blogs of policy makers, professors and experts in any particular field.
And how can another government-owned news service make us more democratic? Presumably government would want to impose a series of regulatory controls on the service: in effect removing the voice of the proprietors, and replacing it with the even and balanced approach of the BBC. Wouldn’t that just be another version of the BBC, but with a print edition?
I also fail to understand how the tight control and ownership of newspapers in this country is democratic, and welcome a more diverse, dispersed media not controlled by a small group of wealthy proprietors monopolising public discourse.
In addition, as Clay Shirky points out this whole web publishing thing hasn’t exactly happened overnight. For the best part of 15 years it’s been evident to many that existing newspaper business models were unsustainable. Yet, having in the most part done little or nothing about these obvious changes, newspapers are now going cap-in-hand to government (i.e. the people) to subsidise their industry. Like the bankers and the car makers, they’re asking for hand outs because they made a series of poor business decisions. Unfortunately, their case is a lot less compelling than the bankers and the car industry, after all, whose fault is it that the ‘news business’ is oversupplied with poor quality content that doesn’t reflect the views or interests of people?
It’s time that newspapers started thinking about how to reposition themselves as inclusive content platforms rather than wasting energy lobbying for handouts to maintain an unsustainable out-dated business model.
Of course it’s regrettable that journalists will lose their jobs, however, I suspect that many will adapt, learning how to use new technologies, finding new jobs at Internet-only operations like the Huffington Post.
Ultimately, Preston’s argument is a lot less to do with the well-being of democracy than the maintainance of the status quo.