Longtime Denver journalist Bill Menezes takes some exception to my disagreement with the idea of having a new statewide sales tax to save the Rocky Mountain News and other failing Colorado newspapers. Writes Bill:
"I generally agree with Steve that it's a bad idea to use taxpayer money to rescue an institution whose local management pretty much has refused to take any public responsibility for its own failure. Having said that, I consider the "government oversight" argument against it to be a red herring. The government already is involved with the operation of the Rocky and the Post via the business structure it administers as the JOA and clearly it has no involvement in the newsroom product.
Further, I'd like anyone who is worried that there would be government interference in the editorial operations of a publicly subsidized newspaper to provide examples of any other local, subsidized institutions where this has occurred at such a granular level. Does the stadium taxing district attempt to tell Pat Bowlen who he can hire as coach? Does local government dictate what the Denver Zoo feeds the gorillas? Does it set the playlist for the CSO or wield veto power over plays that may be scheduled at DCPA venues? I'd be concerned about a lot of things relevant to a newspaper rescue tax, but government involvement in the editorial product isn't one of them."
Given that this is -- I hope -- a rhetorical argument, I appreciate Bill's point about subsidized zoos and stadiums. But I don't think it rationalizes using taxpayer money to "save" a single commercial media outlet under the guise that it has an exclusive relationship to the well-being of an informed citizenry. It doesn't.
Many of the people arguing this bailout idea are the same folks who point to "new media" as the channel by which millions and millions of Americans brought about the most historic political transformation in U.S. history. As much as I hope the Rocky stays in business, this still would have happened if Denver had been a one-newspaper town.
I don't think you can minimize the government oversight issue, either. Bailing out a daily newspaper isn't the same thing as building a football stadium or arts complex.
Imagine how more convoluted the separation of church-and-state would be when you've got a commercial enterprise newspaper that must inject the interests of taxpayers along with the already competing interests of advertising profits and journalism ethics. Taxpayers and their advocates will put every word of every day's paper in context to how they believe they agreed to bankroll a newsroom full of subsidized employees who decide what news to cover and how.
To say government won't interfere denies who government works for. You can't say on one hand that taxpayers must buy out a newspaper so they're informed, and then say on the other hand that they won't exercise authority when they become so.
My two cents.
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