Newspaper bailout would limit freedoms

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

The once slow decline of newspapers has taken a huge plunge in 2009. The drastic loss of advertising revenue from a struggling economy mixed with growing Internet popularity has created a deadly combination.

The number of closures and layoffs is staggering. The Business Insider reports that between January and July, 105 newspapers closed and more than 10,000 newspaper workers’ jobs were lost, aptly naming 2009 “The year the newspaper died.”

According to the Newspaper Association of America, ad sales during the first quarter declined 28.3 percent for a loss of $2.6 billion and fell another 29 percent in the second quarter for an additional $2.8 billion loss.

As a senior in the U’s mass communication news editorial program, this information is disheartening for me. With plans of writing for a local paper beginning to fade, I find myself clinging to hopes and prayers and even trying to justify the loss of newspapers’ First Amendment rights if it will help keep them alive.

That’s exactly what a proposed bill, the Newspaper Revitalization Act of 2009, would require if a newspaper filed as nonprofit.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., introduced House Resolution 3602 on Sept. 17. Maloney stated in a press release that the goal of the act is to free newspapers of their dependency on advertising and circulation revenue, thereby allowing them to continue being the essential component of our free democratic society.

“Unless something is done and done fast, it’s likely that many metropolitan areas may soon have no local daily newspapers8212;and that would damage our democracy,” Maloney said. “Providing this option to structure their business would be a way for a community or local foundations to preserve their local paper.”

However, under the Internal Revenue code, nonprofit organizations are restricted from any political and legislative (lobbying) activities. That means all political news articles would have to be nonpartisan and limited to voter education and encouraging voter participation. According to the IRS, even these small allowances come with strings attached.

“Voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention,” reads IRS code section 501(c)(3).

Basically, newspapers would not be able to express their political opinions or commentary, and that would negate freedom of the press.

Jim Wall, president and publisher of the Deseret News, said he doesn’t know the intent of the people who crafted the legislation. He said it would be very problematic for newspapers to take any kind of money8212;bailout or stimulus8212;from the government and remain impartial on the way they covered the news.

“We are very aggressive in covering stories about government,” Wall said. “We’re a government watchdog. We very carefully watch what happens with taxpayers’ money, what our elected officials are doing, how they carry out their responsibilities. So if you think about the trust readers have, we would be seriously damaging our trust relationship with readers.”

The reality is that no matter how badly we want to save dying newspapers, they can’t accept a bailout from the government without sacrificing their essential legitimacy. Also, the ability to go nonprofit doesn’t help a newspaper knocking on death’s door. Most are currently not making profits, so they would be paying little or no taxes anyway.

Wall said it’s important for the media to figure out how to accommodate a changing world. Newspapers that survive have to reinvent themselves and find ways to get through a tough economy. At the same time, they must continue to provide a good value to readers, both online and in print, as well as to advertisers.

“Our goal is to be smart enough to figure out what comes after what’s next,” Wall said. “One of the things free enterprise does is that it forces us to be competitive and it forces us to do a better job. I think the idea of being competitive makes us work harder.”

Frankly, the newspaper bailout isn’t a bailout at all. For the tens of thousands of newspaper workers who lost their jobs this year, there is no happy ending.

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