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Friday, January 25, 2008

If newspapers hit the wall, should the Government save them?

Here's a post from tech blogger Michael Arrington about a question that arose at the Davos jamboree. (Thanks to Adrian Monck for the link)

It was this: When the business model of “real journalism” fails, what should society do in response? When things are considered important, but can’t be supported with a business model, government sometimes steps in. National parks, highways, police and national defense are all examples. Should print journalism be next?

Notice he says' when' it fails, not 'if' it fails. Needless to say there's now a robust conversation going on around the blogosphere. Check out the comments on Michael's post for a starting point.

Just to be clear, the question is about newspapers, not the media as a whole. So, should the government step in and save the print editions of the Herald and the Dom-Post if they fail?

The short answer is: hell no. Newspapers should pay their way. If they can't make it, it means the market doesn't want their product. Which means they should revamp it, repackage it or find a new product. Just like any other business. Why on earth would you want to spend tax money propping up something that's failing because people don't want it?

Yes, I know: ensuring the public is informed. Well, the people who are currently motivated enough to buy a newspaper are going to be motivated enough to find news from somewhere else. The end of newspapers doesn't mean the end of news. There's still online, mobile, radio and TV - which is where the people who aren't buying newspapers are getting their news now.

There is one problem. Currently it's the newspapers that are generating most of the content for their news websites, and most of the revenue. The website business model isn't sufficiently developed to be able to fund a large reporting staff. No paper, no website - at least for now.

Still, newspapers aren't going to drop dead today, or tomorrow. And when weaker ones start to fold, the stronger ones will get an extended lease on life. In the meantime, newspaper owners are exquisitely focused on finding a workable business model for multi-platform publishing.