Newspapers get bailout? What about blogs?

I love the Drudge Report. I’ve been addicted to it since the 1990’s when it was the best site to find out details of what was going on in the Clinton administration. Then Drudge became even more useful when he published early exit return data during elections. Today Drudge is the best site for information because of Drudge’s news judgement—something seriously lacking in the national media. Drudge knows what is news even when reporters and editors at the major publications don’t. That is why I check it daily.

And when I checked Drudge today, I found this story: Government aid could save U.S. newspapers, spark debate. (The story is by Reuters and is appended to the end of this post for your reading pleasure.) One of the money quotes: The whole idea of the First Amendment and separating media and giving them freedom of control from the government is sacrosanct,” said Digby Solomon, publisher of Tribune Co’s Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia.

Sacrosanct in theory. As the article rightly points out the US Postal Service provides a subsidy to newspapers through its second class postal permit, which allows newspapers to be mailed to subscribers at a rate much lower than the junk mail you receive in your mailbox. The Reuters article also points to the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970—that act allowed joint management agreements like the one between the Birmingham News and the late Birmingham Post-Herald.

A newspaper like every other industry will try to get its own corporate welfare.

“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.”

You think? Of course money has a way of corrupting the process. Whoever pays the bills sets the agenda. When newspapers are controlled by private individuals (or companies) the agenda is set independent of the government, but when the government provides media enterprises a substantial amount of its revenue then it will also demand a significant amount of influence over the editorial product. (Angry at newspaper content now? Just wait until they look like PBS!)

Don’t think government money comes with strings attached? Who sets the speed limit on highways? Who sets the legal age for purchase of alcohol? It might be the state legislature, but then you have to abide by certain federal restrictions lest the state lose its highway funding.

Money always comes with strings. But don’t be fooled. For those who do not know, there already exists public welfare for newspapers in Alabama—it is called legal advertising. Government entities like cities and counties where a newspaper publishes, are required to advertise ordinances, public meetings and other public notices (mortgage foreclosures, process service on persons who can’t be found, etc.)

These legal notices are irrelevant due to the proliferation of the Internet. It would be far easier, less expensive and more useful to publish legal notices online. However, the newspaper lobby (the Alabama Press Association) has done its part to lobby the legislature to continue getting its newspaper members a monthly welfare check. And some of those checks are massive like the publication of the voter list and tax delinquency list. And those lists are published as required by law. The voter list is a perfect example of something that could be available online and updated regularly; however, taxpayers pay to print these lists in every county—that costs taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

You can add newspapers to those robbing taxpayers.

While the government is considering a bailout for newspapers, politicians shouldn’t forget bloggers. I have made some serious business missteps this year. I filled the tank of my car with gas at $3.00 per gallon and within just a few days it was below $2.50. Gas now stands at under $1.50—while I have filled my car numerous times since then, according to my accounting practices, I see a substantial loss. Alabama Power continues to screw me by higher rates while its costs are falling (anyone seen the price of coal and natural gas lately? Alabama Power is happy to talk about them when prices are high and they are seeking rate hikes…where are they now that the bottom has fallen out of coal and natural gas?) Bloggers need power, heat, etc. to blog just like banks need money to lend. In my own myopic view, blogging about the Alabama Crimson Tide is just as important as lending money. Politicians need to understand that blogging is too big to fail.

I’ll take my billion dollars.

I’ll even take a few hundred thousand.