Patterico's Pontifications

1/9/2009

Matt Welch on Newspaper Bailouts

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 1:36 am

Matt Welch says newspaper bailouts will continue to be on journalists’ minds:

Here’s a new holiday cocktail for you: Combine one part bailout seasoning with another part perennial journalistic self-pity, pour it out over the Christmas/New Year’s publishing interregnum and presto!—it’s time for patriotic men and women to get behind a government rescue of what was until very recently one of the most profitable sectors in the United States: The newspaper industry.

. . . .

Mark my words: This will not be the last time you hear about newspaper bailouts. Not if journalists have anything to say about it.

If newspapers are bailed out, any remaining watchdogs will become lapdogs.

Maybe they’re not worried about that because they know they already are lapdogs for the upcoming Obama administration. But what happens when, in the future, newspapers must depend on Republican largesse for their survival? Aha . . . maybe then they’ll see the problem.

This isn’t hard. Any journalist that would take a government handout forfeits any claim to being a journalist. Period.

If they can’t maintain basic independence from the government, what the hell good are they anyway?

P.S. Matt’s piece is filled with fun facts about his former employer, the L.A. Times;

Blaming the customer is the second-to-last refuge of any crappy industry, business, or organization (the last refuge being asking for a handout on Capitol Hill). As my ex-L.A. Times colleague and current Reason magazine Contributing Editor Tim Cavanaugh has noted in our pages, the paper we both short-timed for was filled with people making jokes about whether we could just “fire our readers.”

Arrogance? What arrogance? I also love this:

In an era where there are no journalists left who don’t have an e-mail address, newspapers still employ strange woodland creatures known as ombudsmen to “interface” with readers. On their first beer, newspaper hacks will talk bitterly about Jeff Jarvis and Mickey Kaus and Jay Rosen, all those ivory tower types who think newspapers could somehow be better with less staffing…and by the third they’re talking smack about the writer across the hall who hasn’t filed a thing in four months (and who never took any of the voluntary buyouts, for obvious reasons).

Sounds like someone was complaining about Chuck Philips, doesn’t it?

31 Comments

  1. Now I understand why they don’t care if they lose every single subscriber. It was never for or about us at all. We thought we were customers. Ha! This also explains why they don’t run their organs like businesses – because for a business it is all about the customer. Media is run like government and academia: it’s all about them.

    The next time you hear that old saw, “The people have a right to know,” consider the source. It is not about us the people at all.

    Comment by Peg C. (48175e) — 1/9/2009 @ 3:24 am

  2. I should hasten to add that, from a systematic point of view, the LAT has done more over the past two or so years to immerse itself in all aspects of Web publishing and culture than just about any other major newspaper I can think of. Granted, that could be considered as damning with faint praise, and it doesn’t necessarily change the point about old-timey economic models, but I just wanted to throw that out there before the LAT roast ensues.

    Thanks for the link!

    Comment by Matt Welch (d00933) — 1/9/2009 @ 6:15 am

  3. On the one hand we talk about the government infringing on newspapers’ independence and on the other about anti-trust laws that might not permit newspapers to collude to charge a fee for their online content.

    Without looking it up … I know that anti-trust laws have been used to try to stop big chains from buying up all the small papers in a certain area but as I remember it involved “FREE* ad-papers. Would it be consistent with the First Amendment to use the anti-trust laws to prevent newspapers from “price-fixing”?

    Comment by nk who looked up "Ventress" on Google (ce2a15) — 1/9/2009 @ 6:37 am

  4. Maybe if we bundle it with the porn bailout?

    Just think: The Los Angeles Times could do Page 3 girls, with Mr Fikes hiring Joe Francis as the Page 3 editor, and the prettier Dana could do the photography! Our incoming president could appoint the lovliest lady in the Senate, Barbara Mikulski, as Secretary of Bailouts.

    Comment by The uglier Dana (3e4784) — 1/9/2009 @ 7:03 am

  5. [...] why not? Patterico is reporting on the proposed newspaper bailout and even Joe Francis’ and Larry Flynt’s suggested porn industry bailout, so who knows, [...]

    Pingback by Common Sense Political Thought » Blog Archive » Bailouts for everybody! (73d96f) — 1/9/2009 @ 7:14 am

  6. Congrats to Matt Welch for apparently bailing himself out of the Hiltzik-laden LAT.

    Comment by J."Trashman" Peden (2be5ff) — 1/9/2009 @ 8:10 am

  7. Freedom of the PRESS !!!!!!!!!!! Separation of press and state so the press can be a watchdog and an advocate for the citizens. Or something like that.

    Comment by JD (9ede88) — 1/9/2009 @ 8:17 am

  8. Freedom of the PRESS !!!!!!!!!!! Separation of press and state so the press can be a watchdog and an advocate for the citizens. Or something like that.

    Comment by JD

    LOL! Man, are you living in fantasyland. We are soon going to have state-sponsored media organs (Democrat, of course), and it appears there is little we, the People, can do about it.

    Comment by RickZ (472435) — 1/9/2009 @ 8:41 am

  9. What I would like to know is why one of these brilliant newspaper people didn’t think of Craig’s List or eBay. Why didn’t a financial editor start writing about the Fannie/Freddie impending collapse (except the Wall Street Journal which has been warning about it for five years). I read the LA Times for 40 years. For almost 30 of those years, I was reasonably content. I remember when op-ed columnists had e-mail addresses in 1995. I exchanged e-mails with some of them and, a few times, it was a rewarding experience. Then the e-mail addresses disappeared and the “right-leaning” op-eds went away. It seemed to me that they shifted gears during the Clinton administration and decided on a new business plan. Go left, young man, go left.

    I used to read the Orange County Register every day for 30 years. They had a slightly loopy libertarian editorial policy; against public schools and public highways, for example, but they had a general interest in Orange County that the Times didn’t have. Then, over the past five years, they seemed to shift to less reporting local news and reprinting more New York Times articles with all their leftist slant. I dropped them a couple of years ago. I guess it was cheaper to become a local edition of the NYT than to report on their own community.

    The local-local paper, the Saddleback Valley News (owned by the Register) used to cover the city I live in and the local politics (which are none too clean). True they were all cub reporters who moved on in a year or two, but we could educate them about the local stories. Now the SVN just prints City Hall press releases. As part of a local good government organization, I got pretty frustrated. I no longer read the SVN (They quit delivering it when I dropped the Register even though it used to be free).

    I could go on about the New York Times that I used to subscribe to. They all left me. There wasn’t enough worth while to justify the pile of old papers I had to throw out every week. This seems to be some sort of weird business plan. Take away the value and hope the customer doesn’t notice. I guess I wouldn’t be as unhappy if I shared their politics but maybe I’m not alone, considering the circulation numbers.

    Comment by Mike K (2cf494) — 1/9/2009 @ 8:48 am

  10. Self-deprecating, witty, Dana,

    Here’s the plan for the LAT. We just buy the LAT’s assets; the company itself goes out of business. All the jobs will thus be terminated. Then we hire the best from the old LAT and bring in some good outsiders at the new LAT.

    All the malperforming staffers we can identify will be gone in one step — simply by not rehiring them.

    Anyone brave or foolhardy enough to actually buy the LAT should consider this model. However, it won’t work unless people with a good knowledge of the industry are used to spot the deadwood.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes (33ea5e) — 1/9/2009 @ 8:58 am

  11. Dr. Capt. Mike K.:
    What I would like to know is why one of these brilliant newspaper people didn’t think of Craig’s List or eBay.

    That’s easy. Some of the newspaper people undoubtedly did think of these innovative ideas, but their PHBs squelched such heresy. And in general, the ruling elite at newspapers are technologically inept, frustrating the bright young journalists who have the knowledge to help but aren’t allowed to do so.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes (33ea5e) — 1/9/2009 @ 9:18 am

  12. Mr Fikes, you’ve certainly got a good start on that. By buying the assets but not the company, the union contracts are eliminated. That means we — I want in on the investment, and can contribute at least $250 — go paperless, publishing via web only, completely eliminating the need for printing and delivery.

    We offer handheld portables to subscribers; they receive the paper in pdf format every day, with hourly updates. The portables are leased to the subscribers, and remain the property of Fikes, Inc, to be turned in when subscriptions are not renewed. Since “delivery” is made via the internet, there are never any “missed” papers. People will simply pick them up via their internet connections or WiFi.

    We can do this! :)

    Comment by The intrigued Dana (3e4784) — 1/9/2009 @ 9:21 am

  13. “…bailing himself out of the Hiltzik-laden leadened LAT.
    Comment by J.”Trashman” Peden — 1/9/2009 @ 8:10 am

    There, fixed that for you.

    Comment by AD (9c6207) — 1/9/2009 @ 9:26 am

  14. I think Peg C. hits the nail on the head – the LAT has forgotten they are a business and what makes a business successful is remembering that the customer always comes first as well as providing such an outstanding product it leaves the competition in the dust.

    Unfortunately the LAT has become bewitched by a hyper-inflated view of self-worth and in their eyes seem to believe they have risen above being such a pedestrian enterprise as just a business. What a shame. Now they are a temple devoted to feeding their own egos and believing that it is their calling to enlighten we, the unwashed masses.

    It seems easy though, an good faith attempt to curb their bias-driven agendas, a few front-page apologies, retractions, corrections and admittance that they have screwed up royally (when they do), would certainly go far in restoring the customers’ confidence…if the customer mattered, that is.

    Comment by Dana (137151) — 1/9/2009 @ 9:32 am

  15. and the prettier Dana could do the photography!
    Comment by The uglier Dana — 1/9/2009 @ 7:03 am

    Heh. Thank you but I must politely decline. I’m afraid if my camera and I were in close proximity to the despicable exploiter that is Joe Francis, I would soundly whack him on the head with it. And I have far too much respect for my camera to put it through that!

    Comment by Dana (137151) — 1/9/2009 @ 9:38 am

  16. “LOL! Man, are you living in fantasyland. We are soon going to have state-sponsored media organs (Democrat, of course), and it appears there is little we, the People, can do about it.”Comment by RickZ — 1/9/2009 @ #8.

    That is what we have now, and what we have had since the Algier Hiss trials.

    Comment by C. Norris (7bc158) — 1/9/2009 @ 9:39 am

  17. Intrigued Dana,
    An interesting concept, providing handhelds to subscribers. The downside is the cost, and getting into a business outside our core competency.

    Also, many subscribers, perhaps most, will already have handhelds or Web-enabled cell phones. They won’t want to carry around yet another device. So let’s take advantage of what people already have. The LAT’s mobile site actually works fairly well (I just checked it on my cell phone), although the navigation could be improved).

    I’d also partner with Google, both for ads and to help reporters. Google’s skill with ads needs no elaborating, but reporters could also benefit from professional instruction on how to search for information online and how to validate it to avoid Pierre Salinger Syndrome.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes (33ea5e) — 1/9/2009 @ 9:50 am

  18. Intrigued Dana,
    One amendment: We could go the handheld route, by offering premium services on the Amazon kindle. What those premium services would be — well, we’ll have to think of some!

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes (33ea5e) — 1/9/2009 @ 10:07 am

  19. Comment by Bradley J. Fikes — 1/9/2009 @ 10:07 am

    I would hope that those “premium services” won’t be like the NYT firewall that protected us from MoDo?

    Comment by AD (9c6207) — 1/9/2009 @ 10:25 am

  20. Mr Fikes: the handhelds would be part of the core business, in that they would be a form of distribution, something already part of the newspaper business; they’d simply be a different form.

    Of course, as you lease the handhelds, customers with their own skip that expense.

    We would, however, have the added expense of a heavy-guage steel camera case for Dana, so she could whack Mr Francis upside the head.

    Comment by The investment-minded Dana (3e4784) — 1/9/2009 @ 10:55 am

  21. Premium services … that’s where Joe Francis comes in.

    Hey, as long as Matt Welch is employed, to heck with newspapers.

    Comment by the adjective deficient SPQR (72771e) — 1/9/2009 @ 10:58 am

  22. Perhaps one of the premium services could be to sell adjectives to SPQR?

    Comment by The money-grubbing Dana (3e4784) — 1/9/2009 @ 11:01 am

  23. I would hope that those “premium services” won’t be like the NYT firewall that protected us from MoDo?

    No — all the news and archives would be free. And charging for opining is a brain-dead idea. We might be able to offer bennies like discounts at local stores.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes (33ea5e) — 1/9/2009 @ 11:18 am

  24. Before the Tribune bankruptcy, I believed that the Los Angeles Times could save itself by publishing in Spanish, not English. However, I still think they could survive with a Spanish-only format, but with no news or ads–just coupons.

    Comment by Official Internet Data Office (f79a35) — 1/9/2009 @ 12:14 pm

  25. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been put up for sale by Hearst.

    The Hearst guy says: “If a buyer is not found, possible options include. . .shutting down the paper entirely.”

    Comment by Official Internet Data Office (f79a35) — 1/9/2009 @ 12:49 pm

  26. Freedom of the press must be kept sacred, and in order to do so, it is your patriotic duty to bail out the newspaper industry. How dare they be expected to operate a functioning business model. Fascists.

    Comment by JD (085a0e) — 1/9/2009 @ 12:56 pm

  27. This link about the Seattle Post-Intelligencer link works now. (The story was updated.)

    Comment by Official Internet Data Office (f79a35) — 1/9/2009 @ 12:58 pm

  28. So this is what it’s come to? No business, no matter how poorly run, can be allowed to fail?

    Bankrupt your investors?

    No worries!! Here’s some taxpayer money!

    The next big growth industry: business plans that’re designed to fail. Work a couple years, blow through your investment capital, and then retire on the taxpayer’s dime!

    Huzzah!! Let’s hear it for the new American way!!

    (This message made possible through the cooperation of Compassionate Conservatism and the Democratic Party)

    Comment by tim maguire (72f509) — 1/9/2009 @ 1:10 pm

  29. The moment — the very second — that someone like Chuckie Schumer says “I want to know what conditions we are placing on this newspaper bailout”, I’m getting my gun.

    Fair warning.

    Comment by Icy Texan (b7d162) — 1/9/2009 @ 1:14 pm

  30. Visions of “The Producers” are flashing through my head.

    Comment by John Hitchcock (fb941d) — 1/9/2009 @ 5:57 pm

  31. Perhaps one of the premium services could be to sell adjectives to SPQR?

    Or vowels? I could use a couple myself.

    Comment by Xrlq (62cad4) — 1/11/2009 @ 4:52 am

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