Sen. John Kerry is wading into a fierce national debate next week by holding hearings on the future of newspapers. In a letter to the "Boston Globe family," Kerry wrote about his determination to help save newspapers. Excerpts of the letter were released by the Globe today.
"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"
This isn't the first attempt by the government to help restructure the newspaper industry. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) introduced legislation in March to make media companies into non-profit organizations to ensure survival.
In recent months, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News, the Baltimore Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others, have either ceased daily publication or announced that they may have to stop publishing. A number of other publications, including newspapers owned by the Tribune Company, owners of The Baltimore Sun, have filed for bankruptcy or have had to institute severe cutbacks that have impacted news coverage.
The Newspaper Revitalization Act would allow newspapers to operate as non-profits, if they choose, under 501(c)(3) status for educational purposes, similar to public broadcasting. Under this arrangement, newspapers would not be allowed to make political endorsements, but would be allowed to freely report on all issues, including political campaigns. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax deductible.
Kerry chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. His letter to the Globe family comes on the heels of recent threats by parent company The New York Times to shut down the Boston paper. On April 3rd, the Times reported it was considering an end to the paper:
The company is looking for $20 million in savings from The Globe, which has already gone through several rounds of deep cost-cutting and staff reductions. The company does not report figures by newspaper, but executives have acknowledged that the Globe lost tens of millions of dollars last year.
Note: The Boston Globe originally reported the Kerry hearings would be held on April 30. Kerry's office informs us that they actually begin on May 6.