Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: Bailout's Leaky Logic

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: Bailout's Leaky Logic

Article excerpt

In one of his Fables In Slang written at the end of the 19th century, the great Chicago newspaper columnist George Ade relates the story of a young woman with indulgent parents and a very small talent for singing, whose impromptu concerts are tolerated by polite company in the drawing room. One day she makes her professional debut -- and the newspaper critics, whose job is to be accurate, not polite, force her into immediate retirement with withering reviews.

Ade's moral of the story: "When in doubt, try it on the box office."

The box office -- measured by the shrinking circulations and revenues at big-city dailies, the disappearing classified ads, and diving share prices of publicly traded chains -- has not been kind to the newspaper industry of late.

What's worse is that this time around, the layoffs, buyouts, newsprint trims, and budget cuts -- in short, every strategy publishers know for muddling through the inevitable downturns of their cyclical business -- don't seem to be working. And no one among the industry's leaders, from battle-scarred veterans to loudmouth newcomers, is offering any plausible Big Idea to return to prosperity.

So it's perhaps inevitable that more people are talking aloud about having government come to the rescue. Trial balloons about direct or indirect subsidies are being floated not just by the usual left-leaning "media democracy" crowd, with their touching faith that the same federal government that brought them a war abroad that they abhor and eroded civil liberties at home will somehow dispense funds with a light yet Solomonic touch. …

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