FTC Staff Discussion Draft on Saving Journalism – Bravo Performance
The Federal Trade Commission Staff recently released a discussion draft titled âPotential Policy recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalismâ; a draft that was pilloried in blogs far and wide in a disappointing performance that seemed to completely overlook words like âdiscussion draftâ and âpossibleâ and jump directly to fear and loathing of even discussing policies that could benefit traditional investigative jounalism at the expense of aggregators and rebroadcaster's like, errr, most of the blogs that were whining.Â In addition to earning penalty points for narrow minded self interest and premature whining, many of the blogs were so busy griping about new taxes and IP rights that they missed the biggest problem.Â Some of the possible policies would seem to allow government financial support for journalistic operations that support specific political parties or candidates.Â More on this below, but even I do not want to spend time considering a policyÂ that allows politicians to decide which journalists to support, and then let's those journalists decide which politicians the media will support â sounds like incumbency for life to me.Â Concerns overÂ a new American royalty aside, the goal of the FTC staff was to get people to recognize that journalism is in jeopardy and start thinking seriously about a very broad range of possible responses.Â The discussion draft does exactly that.
Enough about the bloggers performance already, what did the FTC staff say.Â First, journalism is in a death spiral, ad revenues keep shrinking leading to staff cuts and less real reporting.Â Experiments with use of the Internet and new types of news organizations areÂ ongoing, but have produced no sustainable business model as yet (not even Patch?).Â As the Staff puts it,Â ânews is a âpublic goodâ in economic terms. That is, it is non-rivalrous (one personâs consumption of the news does not preclude another personâs consumption of the same news) and non-excludable (once the news producer supplies anyone, it cannot exclude anyone). Because free riding is usually easy in these circumstances, it is often difficult to ensure that producers of public goods are appropriately compensated. âÂ Second, should we âwait and seeâ how the experiments turn out, or do something about that death spiral now, and what actions should we consider.
Start with getting journalists some revenue by changing the law, beginning with intellectual property law.Â Should the âfair useâ exception to copyright be limited so that a search engine or news digest can't pick up the lead of a story without paying a royalty?Â What about copyright protection for âhot newsâ, the facts first aired in a news story and not just the specific means by which those facts are expressed.Â What about a news licensing system similar to that employed by the music industry to compensate performances?
Next, consider antitrust changes that: 1) Allow news organizations to agree jointly to erect pay walls so that consumers must pay for access to online content; and 2) Allow news organizations to agree jointly on a mechanism to require news aggregators and others to pay for the use of online content, perhaps through the use of copyright licenses.Â These could have the most effective performance in combination with one or two of the IP changes discussed above.
Tomorrow we move on to tax changes, direct government support and my favorite, a look at journalism as a non-profit.
Photo Credit: Yan Arief