Former Republican legislator Kevin Rennie, who normally manages to be both incendiary and right on the money, is way off the mark with his column in today's Hartford Courant, "Bailout For Two Papers Delusional."
Right off the bat, the delusional aspect of the piece is that anyone is seeking "a bailout."
In fact, there is nobody -- absolutely nobody -- who is pushing the state to provide any sort of bailout to The Bristol Press or the New Britain Herald, despite what Rennie, columnist Michelle Malkin and the editorial board of the Waterbury Republican-American might say.
They have collectively hopped on a myth that spread through a number of blogs in recent days, the notion that asking for the state Department of Economic and Community Development to help find a buyer for the two papers is tantamount to a massive government intervention to save them.
Let's get real, people.
Rennie bases his out-of-date column on the notion that somebody wants the state to "come up with some chi-ching" to keep the two dailies humming. But that simply isn't true.
All anyone is asking for the DECD to do is to talk with potential buyers to try to keep the papers open after the Journal Register Co.'s Jan. 12 deadline -- not so much to save the papers themselves, or even the 100 or so jobs at stake, as to keep intact the most crucial elements of two communities' heritage. Both Bristol and New Britain will suffer grievously, much more than either town yet recognizes, if the papers vanish. The legislators who are making calls, writing letters and demanding action are aware of the cost if a paper folds, but they are not trying to stick taxpayers with the bill for it.
What alarms me in Rennie's column -- as well as most of the other pieces that have been written in opposition -- is that they argue newspaper companies should not take advantage of the same government programs that help every other business that's in trouble.
It's apparently fine to accept tax breaks, low-cost mailing rates and countless other governmental perks for papers as long as the press companies are humming along, but if they begin to sputter, they should just go ahead and die rather than violate a mythical separation of the media from the state? C'mon, that makes no sense at all.
Let's start right at the root of this idea. Every newspaper I know about except my beloved ReadTheTattoo.com exists as some kind of corporate entity. Its entire existence is based on the artificial, government-granted right to operate as a collective business that gains many of the rights of real people while securing lots of rights that plain old citizens don't have, including gaining a shield for personal liability for its officers' own misdeeds and misfortunes.
Without the government's say-so, there is no Republican-American, Hartford Courant or any other business.
But I suppose newspaper companies should not accept the perks of corporate law rather than risk the taint of government "interference."
Beyond that, of course, are a wealth of tax breaks and tax incentives that newspapers have always claimed when they could, from property tax breaks for new equipment to whatever tax benefits they can find for being in an economic development zone. They take it all, whenever they can, however they can, because they are businesses looking out for the bottom line.
Heck, there are lobbyists there in Hartford, and across America, who are pushing all kinds of policies and programs that would help the newspapers who hire them by convincing the government to revise the law. Is that also a line that the press should not cross? Perhaps, but it happens all the time.
So now, when the JRC is fading out of the picture in New Britain and Bristol, opening the door to new owners who might have a larger vision than simply raking in every possible penny until there's nothing left to grab, we're supposed to slam that door shut because it's better to let two newspapers that have served their communities with honor since the 1800s drop dead than to see if government might be able to tap into programs available to every other business? I'm sorry, but that is absolutely delusional.
It doesn't make any sense to pick a moment when two papers are struggling to survive to suddenly argue that the press should not participate in any governmental programs that might help it.
If there is a way that officials who are already paid to find and retain important businesses in Connecticut can assist in finding a buyer, why shouldn't they? Who's harmed? I always thought the goal was to make the state more friendly to business, not to stand on the sidelines and do nothing while 13 newspapers close up shop.
Whatever solutions may emerge, the government has a clear role in helping to find them, and then, as always, stepping back and letting a new owner get down to business.
And, rest assured, if there's still a Bristol Press after Jan. 12, it's not going to hesitate to track down wrongdoing at the DECD or anywhere else, because that's what we do.*******
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org