Tuesday, March 16, 2010

from supposed monopoly to needing a big subidy: how things change in the newspaper business

From Matt Welch in Reason...

Welch opens with a quote from media historian Robert W. McChesney a decade ago-- on the AOL/Time merger: "a violation of any known theory of a free press in a democratic society...[would lead to] another round of mergers that should leave the entire realm of communication under the thumbs of a small handful of companies."

McChesney was not just wrong about all of the above. He was spectacularly wrong....Instead of heralding a new age, the merger is now seen as marking the last big burst of irrational exuberance from a long-gone era. And the "eventual course of the Internet" has been determined not by a handful of mustache-twirling profiteers but by millions of frequently anonymous individuals, some seeking profit but most using the simplest of online tools...

This was more than just an outlier prediction at didn't pan out...

The 2000s, which stand as arguably the single most disruptive and creative decade for media since the dawn of the William Randolph Hearst/Joseph Pulitzer press baron era, forced what might be called the Media Monopoly wing of journalism criticism...to change its tune....

This shape shifting would be little more than an intellectual curiosity if it weren't for one pressing fact: The media criticism establishment, McChesney most of all, is pushing hard for an unprecedented federal government intrusion into the free press. And its alarming proposals are gaining a sympathetic audience on Capitol Hill.

In March 2009, McChesney and John Nichols, the Washington correspondent for The Nation, penned a widely circulated story for the progressive weekly calling for a journalism "stimulus" costing $60 billion over the next three years. Provisions included a $200 tax credit for newspaper subscriptions, the elimination of postage rates for magazines receiving less than 20 percent of their revenue from advertising, and taxpayer support for "a well-funded student newspaper and a low-power FM radio station" at "every middle school, high school and college."...

Unfortunately for anyone enthusiastic about both a strong federal government and freedom of the press, there is and always will be a fundamental tension between the two....

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