FTC to help “the reinvention of journalism”?

No one disputes the impact the digital age has had on journalism, particularly newspapers, so there’s a variety of ideas floating around to keep newspapers alive. The Federal Trade Commission’s staff just released a draft discussion report as a result of the FTC saying last year that it wanted to consider the challenges faced by journalism.

The FTC points out that the report, titled “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism in the Internet Age,” is not made up of its proposals but, rather, is a collection of suggestions from a series of workshops it hosted and from reports and articles about the future of journalism. There are some interesting concepts. Here’s a few:

  • Limiting the “fair use” doctrine to address issues posed by news aggregators and search engines.
  • Amending the Copyright Act to create “hot news” protection. While you can’t copyright facts, this doctrine recognizes some quasi-property interest in the value of having the news first, before there is widespread public dissemination.
  • Establish a “journalism” division of AmeriCorps to help “ensure that young people who love journalism will stay in the field.”
  • Collecting fees from telecom users, broadcast licensees or ISPs to create a national fund for local news.
  • Creating “citizenship news vouchers, which would allow taxpayers to allocate some amount of government funds to the non-profit media organization of their choice.
  • In conjunction with the latter, using a non-profit model for new organizations or explore other types of business structures. (A bill that would allow newspapers to qualify as nonprofit entities was introduced in the U.S. Senate in March 2009 and still sits in committee.)

These are just a few of the ideas discussed to one degree or another in the report. As a former newspaper reporter and a readere, I want newspapers and print magazines to survive. At the same time, I am more than a bit leery of government being involved with the funding or structure of news organizations. Just like with churches, I think we are all better served by separation of state and news media.

Still, the only way for newspapers to survive is to explore, discuss and debate a wide range of ideas. Or perhaps I’m just a Luddite unwilling to recognize that the dead tree-based form of journalism will inevitably disappear. If that’s the case, it looks like the FTC is in the same boat.

In sum, newspapers have not yet found a new, sustainable business model, and there is reason for concern that such a business model may not emerge.

Potential Policy Recommendations to Support
the Reinvention of Journalism in the Internet Age

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