- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

A newspaper was rescued, Capitol Hill explored “the future of journalism,” and critics faulted politicians for meddling with the press.

And that was only Wednesday’s news about bleak journalism.

Indeed, the Boston Globe remained open after the newspaper came to terms in the early morning hours with the million-dollar demands of its parent company, the New York Times.

Negotiations have been lengthy and emotional, punctuated by protests from lawmakers, local officials and a loyal public irked that the Times threatened their hometown paper. While not all the details were revealed, Globe employees will suffer a 10 percent pay cut and unpaid furloughs to preserve the 127-year-old paper.

Hours later, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, held a lengthy hearing with showcase testimony from high-profile representatives of “old” and “new” media and seven other lawmakers.

Mr. Kerry is one of several politicians who recently have taken on the cause of newspapers - a demoralized industry dogged by fickle audiences, flagging revenues and changing technology.

“The words of Joseph Pulitzer are still true. Our republic and its press will rise or fall together. We are just talking about a new kind of press, a new media,” Mr. Kerry said, later suggesting that online journalists receive the same congressional credentials as those working in print.

Some say such talk is nothing more than grandstanding.

“The best thing for journalism and the American public is for Congress to stay the heck out of journalism. The biases of National Public Radio and PBS show what happens when Congress messes with the First Amendment,” said Dan Gainor of the Business & Media Institute, a press watchdog.

“There is a future for good journalism. Some smart entrepreneur just needs to figure out the new business model,” Mr. Gainor said.

Jon Friedman, who writes Media Web, a column at Marketwatch.com, agreed, calling himself “very cynical when Washington gets involved in a public cause. Where was Washington before all these problems surfaced? It seems like lawmakers wait for the big calamity, then jump in and sound self-righteous, pious.”

“Trouble in journalism is not new. If Washington really cared, lawmakers would have mobilized and done something long ago instead of standing on the sidelines and wringing their hands,” Mr. Friedman said.

Opinions also clashed during the hearings.

“If you don’t have a product you can charge for, you don’t have a product,” said former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, in sympathy with newspapers that offer free content online.

“The future of journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers,” countered Arianna Huffington, founder of a much-visited news and opinion Web site.

She added that consumers now live in “a golden age of news.”

Talk of “bailouts” or tax breaks for newspapers have been bandied about for months within the industry - which last year lost 6,000 jobs as papers downsized and consolidated. News executives have agonized over how to “monetize” their content.

“The president believes there has to be a strong free press. I think there’s a certain concern and a certain sadness when you see cities losing their newspapers,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Tuesday. “But I don’t know what, in all honesty, government can do about it. That might be a bit of a tricky area.”

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