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A conversation with David Rose, little magazine veteran and publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly
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March 25, 2009, 7:45 a.m.

Killing innovation with kindness: The Newspaper Revitalization Act

The title of a bill introduced by my U.S. Senator tells me most of what I need to know about how its focus is misguided:

The Newspaper Revitalization Act

Proposed tagline: “Newspapers: Let’s breathe a little life into this patient.”

At its core, the idea isn’t entirely harebrained, especially the notion of making it possible for people to support journalism through donations, but I am immediately suspicious of any effort that has as its starting point that newspapers are precious things to be preserved, forever, like some kind of ubiquitous, everlasting Williamsburg of media.

If the government (the government!) starts getting in the business of propping up the fading part of journalism’s business model, forget the ethical and constitutional issues, it’ll effectively cut off oxygen to the parts of the business that are trying to innovate. In the past 6-12 months, I believe it’s been the panic around the breakdown of the old business model that has allowed more talk of change to rise to the surface in newspaper executive suites. The worst thing that could happen would be for newspaper companies to find the means to suddenly become comfortable again.

Jason Calacanis, serial tech entrepreneur and owner of Mahalo.com, talked about this on This Week in Tech (TWiT) in the most recent episode, when the host asked him what happens when newspapers and other traditional media experience the kinds of business model disruption that are happening right now:

“Most of the time people can’t make the evolutionary shift. It’s just too difficult. You’re better off just shutting some of these things down. And you know what: Don’t cry for the newspapers. It’s an opportunity for young people with new ideas to make better things than newspapers… Don’t cry for the newspaper business. I’m sick of that. Engadget as a blog or This Week in Tech as a show are much better — Lifehacker, etc. — than the tech products that came before them. They’re better than ZDNet. They’re better than CNet. They’re better than PC Magazine. Nobody’s crying because G4TV‘s gone. Who cares? Who gives a crap about TechTV? TWiT is better. People have this thing that progress everywhere else is good, but in the newspaper business, progress is bad. I think not killing trees is a good thing.” (Around 1:19 into the show)

Painful as it is, I think he’s right. If the news industry has any life — or influence — left in it, showing why this ill-advised bill is a bad idea — reporting and editorializing on it — would be a good place to start.

IMO, as they say online.

POSTED     March 25, 2009, 7:45 a.m.
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