This report from the Federal Trade Commission has been making the rounds on the Interwebs this week and causing some consternation in the journalism world, as the Obama administration appears to be trying to figure out a way to "save" print journalism. The thought raises all kinds of ethical questions, as we in the press cherish our freedom from government control almost as much as Marriott points. There are a number of ideas spitballed on the subject -- from an antitrust exemption that would allow newspapers to collude on paywalls for their Web sites to tax incentives for the news business.
As it turns out, President Obama himself addressed this issue in an exclusive pre-G-20 Oval Office interview with the Post-Gazette -- haven't plugged that one for a while, have we? -- responding to a question from Executive Editor David Shribman -- and not seeming too eager to meddle in our business. Was he just pandering to newspapermen, has he changed his view, or too big a deal being made of the FTC study? You decide. A partial transcript follows.
Shribman: Mr. President, are you worried about the national cultural implications of the state and health of the newspaper industry?Obama: Yes. Look, the economics of newspapers is obviously a real problem. Now, if you talk to the younger generation ... they don't really get their news oftentimes from print newspapers; they're getting it off the Internet. And figuring out how to retain the best of what newspapers are all about -- journalistic integrity, fact-based reporting, serious investigative reporting -- how to retain those ethics in all these different new media, and how to make sure that it's paid for is really a challenge. But it's something that I think is absolutely critical to the health of our democracy. And I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions with no serious fact checking and no serious attempts to put stories in context and provide a sense of proportion to how we interpret the world, that what you'll end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void, but not a lot of mutual understanding. And that's not good for our democracy.
So you guys understand the economics of newspapers better than I do. I know that obviously this recession means more advertising revenue. That's tough on everybody. But even before this financial crisis, there were going to be some challenges there. And I think that -- what I hope is that people start understanding if you're getting your newspaper over the Internet, that that's not free. And there's got to be a way to find a business model that supports that. But you guys probably have better ideas than I do about how to make that happen.