The current Congress loves nothing more than marshalling the power of government to save failing businesses. As Justin previously wrote, the latest is an effort to rescue newspapers:

“Despite the 24/7 availability of news from print, broadcast and digital sources, there remains one clear fact: When it comes to original in-depth reporting that records and exposes actions, issues, and opportunities, nothing has replaced a newspaper,” Sen. Benjamin Cardin , D- Md. , told a Senate Commerce Communications subcommittee .

Cardin introduced a bill he calls the Newspaper Revitalization Act. It would allow newspapers to operate as educational nonprofit entities with a tax status similar to public broadcasters, churches and hospitals.

The bill also stipulates that papers wouldn’t be able to endorse political candidates. And that, right there, is a massive problem. If endorsing a candidate is not allowed, what other political speech would newspapers avoid out of fear of losing their nonprofit status? Are we really saving the industry by subjecting it to editorial restrictions? Why not just exempt media from taxes altogether and avoid the tricky nonprofit status designation?

The recent failures of major newspapers has worried a lot of us. I do think, at this moment, newspapers still play a role us new media folks simply can’t and the broadcast media simply won’t. But would the eventual demise of newspapers really be the demise of the government watchdog? Is there no new media model which can keep people in power honest? I don’t know the answer, but I suspect in-depth reporting would find a way to survive even if its traditional medium doesn’t.

Whatever the case, I’m wary of any government plan which disrupts even a minor aspect of a newspaper’s autonomy.

Politics Congress Considers Making Newspapers Nonprofits