Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Wacky Call For Government-Funded Journalism

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal contained a wacky piece by Columbia University president, Lee Bollinger, entitled Journalism Needs Government Help.

You can view Bollinger's bio on any number of webpages. While this isn't my political blog, suffice to say, Bollinger's background, including stints in significant administrative positions at several liberal universities, a JD, and clerking for Warren Burger, certainly lead you to expect non-market solutions from him.

And you wouldn't be disappointed in the content of the Journal editorial. Essentially, Bollinger idolizes the BBC and, in the same breath, PBS, calling for an official federal government underwriting of US news gathering.

Apparently blind to the prevalent form of news consumption, as I noted in this post on Rupert Murdoch's bid for Dow Jones, Bollinger argues,

"We should think about American journalism as a mixed system, where the mission is to get the balance right."

By "mixed system," Bollinger means government involvement. In a free press.

Yeah, that'll happen.

Bollinger claims that this is required because, in the current situation, news organizations will accept advertising from firms they cannot thus criticize, e.g., BP.

In this, Bollinger exposes his incredible naivete and, frankly, ignorance of both business evolution and plain common sense.

First, there are millions of bloggers and ordinary people with cell phones possessing motion and still video capabilities. How many news stories of the Malaysian tsunami of several years past were based on those?

Between immediate image capture and blogging by the public, now, more than ever before, contrary to Bollinger's contentions, we are able to sample unbiased, raw news from all over the globe.

Second, today's modern method of monetizing news is more video than text. That's just the truth. Sorry to break it to you, Lee, but humans can listen at much faster rates than they can read, video allows for spontaneous debate that clumsy text does not, and multiple-sense information processing actually tends to increase retention.

Even if Bollinger were right, and print media was some sort of sacrosanct icon, news gathering funded by the government is an obvious trap.

Instead, the Schumpeterian result should be the resurgence of the wire services. AP still exists.

If so many viable print entities needed unaffordable news feeds, then shared feeds would be the obvious solution. I believe that, years ago, the larger newspapers gradually could afford their own foreign correspondents, negating some of the benefits of the old UPI and AP systems.

If business conditions have made that model more profitable again, so be it. The last thing we need is yet another dinosaur of a business sector on government life support, in addition to auto assembly and finance.

But between truly international print media, such as the Economist, and daily cable news programs, Bollinger's view of print journalism looks pathetically quaint and out-dated.

Is this guy living in a time capsule?

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