- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The “death of newspapers” has drawn powerful political interest.

Troubled by the possible shuttering of his hometown paper, Sen. John Kerry reached out to the Boston Globe on Tuesday, then called for Senate hearings to address the woes of the nation’s print media.

“To the Boston Globe family,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote to employees of the 132-year-old publication, which faces closure unless it can come up with $20 million in union concessions to parent company the New York Times by May 1. The Globe is losing $1 million a week.

“America’s newspapers are struggling to survive, and while there will be serious consequences in terms of the lives and financial security of the employees involved, including hundreds at the Globe, there will also be serious consequences for our democracy where diversity of opinion and strong debate are paramount,” Mr. Kerry said.

Most newspapers are in similar circumstances as the industry struggles with the worst job losses on record and plummeting revenues. Faced with competition from online and broadcast sources, all papers now seek multimedia ways to deliver their news and monetize their content.

“I am committed to your fight, committed to your industry and committed to ensuring that the vital public service newspapers provide does not disappear,” Mr. Kerry told the Globe employees.

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Lawmakers are witnessing the crisis firsthand. Press watchdogs who once prowled Capitol Hill are disappearing, replaced by special-interest publications and foreign news organizations.

In February, a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in the past two decades, the number of American news organizations accredited to cover Congress fell by two-thirds - from 564 in 1985 to 160 in early 2007. More cutbacks have been made since then.

Washington once hosted 71 newspaper bureaus; now there are 25. Policy-influencing, special-interest publications and foreign newspapers, however, have multiplied. For example, in 1968, there were 160 foreign journalists in Washington. Now there are nearly 800.

Mr. Kerry, who has called for Senate hearings on “the future of journalism” to begin May 6, also cited the negative influence of “agenda-driven reporting” and media conglomerates.

The new complexities of the marketplace have drawn other interest.

Seeking to parse some potential policy solutions, the House Judiciary courts and competition policy subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday addressing fair competition, new business models and other alternatives for the troubled industry.

“The decline of print newspapers doesn’t mean the decline of journalism. What we need to have for journalism is journalists, and lots of them,” testified Ben Scott of the Free Press, a nonpartisan group for media reform.

“But we should avoid the temptation to turn to policies that resemble bailouts. We should not relax the antitrust standards to permit further consolidation. The most consolidated newspaper companies are among those in the worst financial shape today,” he said.

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