NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 5, 2009

Taxpayer cash is going to rescue so many people these days that it is hard to sort the truly awful ideas from the merely terrible.  But then came the recent announcement that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell was discussing a state bailout of Philadelphia Media Holdings, the company that owns Philadelphia newspapers, the Inquirer and the Daily News, says the Wall Street Journal.

Even if the bailout is designed simply to help the newspaper meet its default payments until the economy recovers, that is still a highly speculative taxpayer bet.  Everyone knows the big-city newspaper business model is under pressure, says the Journal:

  • The Tribune Company and the Minneapolis Star Tribune have both filed for bankruptcy, while the publisher of Connecticut papers including the New Haven Register suspended its debt payments in December.
  • But newspapers aren't the lifeblood of anything if they are merely an adjunct of the state.
  • Independent journalism is valuable, but only if it is truly independent.
  • A newspaper that is bankrolled by the state, even if it's only a loan, is going to have a strong interest in not criticizing the state.

With the business of journalism changing, many newspapers will vanish in the coming months and years.  But that doesn't mean that journalism itself is vanishing, says the Journal.  TV, radio and national newspapers still have audiences, and internet news operations have popped up in Minneapolis, San Diego and other places, often started by former reporters for the big-city dailies. 

The fastest way to kill a newspaper is to make it dependent on the politicians it is supposed to cover, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Bad News in Philadelphia," Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2009.

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