Let the bad ideas flow
With all the hyperbolic, ill-sourced and often self-serving End of Days coverage of the newspaper industry lately, we shouldn't be surprised to see any number of really bad ideas surfacing -- and I don't just mean paywalls.
I say: Let the bad ideas flow. Sometimes bad ideas spark good ones. Just don't drink the Kool-Aid.
Here's one that might smell good but bear poison: Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin's proposal to let newspapers dodge taxes by declaring themselves to be nonprofit charities.
If you believe that the core problem of newspapers is that they have owners who demand profits, then you might think this is a good thing. But that's not the core problem. Owners may have been responsible for creating the current panic by borrowing too heavily to acquire more newspapers, but ownership ultimately is a minor issue in the long-term picture. If you're bleeding millions of dollars a month, a little help with your taxes isn't going to keep your obsolete metro monster alive.
The poison in Cardin's elixir? It effectively puts the government in the position of licensing these institutions. It attempts to define newspapers in some ways that are bound to backfire, and such newspapers would be banned from publishing opinion, a dangerous slope. Robert Picard has a thorough dissection of the proposal.
Another deadly idea is buried inside Silicon Alley Insider's 10 Newspapers That Will Survive The Apocalypse, which quotes "an investor who has already plunked millions into the industry and is in the process of spending much more."
This one is convinced that the path forward is "cutting newsroom bloat and R&D costs" and "stop 'spending on trying to find their way out' and 'instead run their current good business.' ... He says local papers should have a Web site run by two people that links to international and national news and keeps all local content behind a pay wall or off the Internet entirely."
That's just sad: Dining off the carcass of a rotting business.
Newspapers got where they are today by underinvesting in R&D, not overinvesting. The debt load didn't come from building websites. Newspaper companies borrowed to buy more of the past, not to build a future.