Monday, March 23, 2009

A "benevolent whirl" from government may save newspapers from their "death-spiral"

Nearly two months after I made the suggestion on this blog, Johann Hari asks if the newspaper industry should get a bailout.
In an age of bailouts, several European governments are experimenting with ways to support the world of news-gathering so it will survive for the twenty-first century. The best plan has come from French President Nicholas Sarkozy. He has launched a programme where every French citizen, on her eighteenth birthday, will be given a year's free subscription to a newspaper of her choice. The effects are subtle. Many young readers will develop a newspaper habit. In turn, newspapers will compete harder to capture this lucrative guaranteed market, and make their product accessible and fresh. A benevolent whirl replaces the current death-spiral.

Of course there is a terrible danger in making newspapers dependent on the government's actions. Nobody wants that. But there are ways to avoid this trap. In 1971, the Swedish government set up a system of subsidies to newspapers allocated by an independent body on the basis of circulation and revenue data. Intriguingly, the Swedish press became more adversarial and critical after it was introduced, not less.

Find Mr. Hari's deal here.

Also see: Should the newspaper industry get a bailout?

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