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Kerry Says Newspapers “Endangered”

May 6, 2009
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Huffington Post has this dispatch on Sen. John Kerry (D-Ma.)’s Senate hearing on the future of newspapers, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today. Our own Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) suggests that newspapers go non-profit, like NPR. But, he says, that’s only for small, local papers, “not conglomerates.” Also set to testify: Arianna Huffington and Baltimore’s own David Simon. C-Span feed here.

UPDATE:

On May 6, Sen. John Kerry’s Senate subcommittee on Communications, Technology , and the Internet held a hearing on the Future of Journalism, featuring testimony from, among others, David Simon, former Sun reporter and creator of HBO’s The Wire.

Simon told the committee that “high end journalism is dying in America,” and that unless a new economic model is found, the internet will not sustain it. He said the internet is a forum for comment on journalism, not a forum for journalism: “In short,” he said, “the parasite is slowly killing the host.”

Simon said that high-end journalism requires full-time commitment by professionals-”The very phrase %u2018citizen-journalist’ strikes my ears as Orwellian,” Simon said-because communities can no more count on citizen journalists to adequately cover courts, cops, and politicians than it can on citizen firefighters with garden hoses to extinguish high-rise infernos.

Simon told the committee that he thinks the problem goes back to the 1970s and 80s, when media chains started swallowing smaller media companies. Smaller companies may have been content with profits of 10 or 15 percent, but the chains demanded double that, and to do it they cheapened the product, taking reporters off important, but less-sexy beats. The Sun, for instance, abandoned its poverty and Social Services beat, even though it serves “a city where half of the black men do not have consistent employment.”

Instead of covering the important but sometimes mundane local institutions, he said, the chains put money into blockbuster investigations in an attempt to get Pulitzers, and the reporters who played along with the scheme were regarded as stars. They moved up in the organization, they traveled from city to city, never staying in one place long enough to really understand the in-depth workings of the cities they covered.

Simon suggested to the committee that it consider tax-law changes that would encourage companies to donate unprofitable newspapers to nonprofit foundations; he also suggested relaxing antitrust laws to allow papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times to openly discuss and find ways to protect copyrighted materials from online aggregators.

What is needed, Simon says, is for readers to pay for content-at least for the real content that is developed by high-end journalists.

The discussion continues.

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