I Joined Twitter – Now What?

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Newspapers in Q1 2009: Full-circle

My first post on newspapers in 2009 went like this:

I was horrified to find out yesterday that at least one Connecticut lawmaker is considering a government bailout of a newspaper.

I'm still horrified by this prospect for the same reason: How can a newspaper impartially (read: critically) report on the government that funds it?

Well, it's been another week of devolution in the newspaper industry (if you consider dealing with the effects of refusing to evolve to be devolution).

The Christian Science Monitor has printed its final mass-market daily edition. Cox announced it will shut down its Washington bureau on Wednesday.

And that piece I wrote a few days ago about the newspaper crisis hitting home? AnnArbor.com is now live, which makes the impending closing of the print edition of the Ann Arbor News feel that much closer.

Andrea pointed me to a piece by Dylan Stableford on whether newspapers might go non-profit in an effort to save themselves.

Stableford's question stems from legislation introduced by Maryland Senator Ben Cardin that would allow certain newspapers to become 501(c)(3) organizations.

Why do we need legislation for that? The non-profit Poynter Institution owns the St. Petersburg Times, and you can write off a donation to Poynter, so is it really necessary?

There's a gray area here, in that a non-profit newspaper may be able to sell advertising under current tax law.

But there's some major problems here. If you actually read the legislation (PDF), you'll find that it says an eligible newspaper is one that publishes regularly and includes local, national and international news.

I'm OK with "regularly" – most papers come out with some frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). But the legislation appears to specifically exclude some types of publications. Niche publication? Nope. National (with no specifically local news)? Application rejected. Local weekly? Out.

Let's also not forget that to qualify for a 501(c)(3), an organization has to be non-partisan. So, no more candidate endorsements (which, by the way, is fine with me), but also no being critical of any government institution or politician, lest you be accused of being impartial. You'd better included representatives from the IRS on your editorial board, in your story budget meetings, and maybe you just turn over your assignment editor positions.

Maybe print folks think I'm not taking the newspaper crisis seriously enough. Maybe it's because readership here is strong (via Sean Kirst).

Or maybe it's because I just don't think that the Web is destroying journalism, but rather that Web sites help newspapers.

David Eaves points out that the fact newspapers are in trouble means that democracy and the exchange of ideas are healthy. In fact, after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went online-only, some of the folks who didn't make the cut from the printed version to the Web site are working on starting competing sites. When the Rocky Mountain News shut down, it didn't mean Colorado Rockies fans are going to be left without coverage, it means that former beat writers have new opportunities.

So where are we? Moving forward, in some direction or other. As Yogi Berra once said, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Some related stuff

» Gina Chen: Old journalism might be fading out, but let's make sure some standards stick around

» Jay Rosen: Here's some stuff you should read regarding where newspapers are heading

» Idea Lab: How much local news is in your newspaper?

» Also, was I self-referential enough to fulfill Paul Dailing's requirements for becoming a death of newspapers blogger? (Hat tip to Alana Taylor.)