The Republican-American has an editorial today that makes the case for rejecting any state help for the JRC papers slated to close next month. It's worth reading because the argument it makes has some validity.
But it's nonetheless wrong.
To begin with, government already provides plenty of help for newspapers, from the lucrative publication of legal notices to cut-rate mailing costs. I think they're exempt from sales tax, too, thanks to plenty of lobbying by newspaper executives. Heck, there's even a press room at the state Capitol, space provided right there at the heart of things for the media to do its work.
None of that bothers me. It's a recognition of the reality that government and the newspapers that cover its actions are already tied together in many, many ways.
Maybe I'm naive, but I don't see how a group of new local owners of the Press getting a low interest loan from the state or a tax break for new computers or something is going to make a damn bit of difference how I write a story or how it gets played in the paper.
Oh, yeah, that tax break for new computers? Newspapers already get that, too.
Is ESPN, the biggest media giant in Connecticut, going to skew its coverage to benefit the state government because it got hundreds of millions in tax breaks, road improvements and such? I don't think so. I'd be kind of surprised if the people who actually do the reporting there are even dimly aware of the government's helping hand that made its growth more likely.
There is, in short, a real world that trumps the theoretical divide that should separate watchdogs from those they watch. That fence is already down, if it was ever otherwise, and what the state development officials are offering is no more than they would do for any business.
I recognize, of course, that newspapers are not just any business. But their very uniqueness is what makes it especially important to save them.
I would also point out that the editorial's list of dead papers includes only one from a town that doesn't still have a former competitor in business. Only in Ansonia, where the Evening Sentinel folded, is there nothing left. And I'd argue with anyone who wanted to claim that the Naugatuck Valley is not now largely ignored by the press, to its detriment. The lack of a paper there has contributed to the crippled economy that afflicts most of the towns near Ansonia. It's actually a perfect example of why it's so crucial to save the Press.
We are, for better or worse, already beholden in some way to "the coercive powers that be" and yet we go on, poking and prodding the beast that is our government, demanding that it do better, reach higher and run more efficiently.
A loan or yet another tax break isn't going to change that relationship one iota.*******
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org