Why Obama should stiff-arm "save the newspapers" legislation.

Media criticism.
Sept. 21 2009 6:39 PM

Saving Newspapers From Their Saviors

President Obama! Stiff-arm that "save the newspapers" legislation!

(Continued from Page 1)

Congress also undermines newspapers by subsidizing the U.S. Postal Service, which delivers third-class "junk mail"—catalogs and other advertisements—in competition with newspapers. Now, newspapers have no moral right to deliver every advertisement printed on paper. But it makes little sense to subsidize a quasi-government agency like the Postal Service and then propose new plans to subsidize one of its failing competitors in the private sector.

(It should go without saying that I oppose second-class mail postal subsidies for newspaper and magazine delivery as well as the various state, local, and federal laws that require government to buy space to print legal notices in newspapers.)

The government's attempt to prop up newspapers with rewrites of the tax code or Sarkozy-esque direct subsidies of government advertising and free subscriptions for young people interferes with the already-in-progress transition from print to digital news delivery that's been accelerating for the past 15 years—or longer. Propping up troubled papers has a cost. It weakens the enterprises that are rising from below to compete with them to deliver advertising and, yes, deliver news. I can think of no better way to hinder the rise of such Web sensations as Politico and Talking Points Memo than rewriting the rules to benefit newspapers.

Remember, the decline of newspapers is multifactorial, and it didn't start yesterday. As early as 1992, Warren Buffett was counseling investors against newspapers, saying they had already lost their economic advantage. This was a full three or four years before the commercial World Wide Web took off.

Advertisement

Even if the government were to create as level and competitive a playing field as possible—say, impose the same sales tax burden on Web retailers as bricks-and-mortar shops that are much more likely to advertise in newspapers—I doubt that the dying newspaper trend could be fully reversed. The best thing President Obama can do for the news business is nothing.

******

Somewhere in the last week, I read somebody commenting about how the rise of nonprofit journalism is going to change journalists from pitch writers into grant writers. Great line. Who wrote it? Stand up and take your bow by sending e-mail to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. The author's identity will be announced on my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type Cardin in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

An Iranian Woman Was Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist. Can Activists Save Her?

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Women’s Sports Show

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now, at Least.

Behold
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 2:08 PM We Need to Talk: Terrible Name, Good Show
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Oct. 1 2014 1:53 PM Slate Superfest East How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 2:24 PM The New Interstellar Trailer Is the Most Exciting Yet
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 2:26 PM The Apple Graveyard Leave a flower for a dead Apple product.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 2:36 PM Climate Science Is Settled Enough The Wall Street Journal’s fresh face of climate inaction.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.