Steven Rattner identifies many of the reasons why print newspapers are failing and then comes up with an absolutely horrible idea: government-funded newspapers.

So perhaps it's time to think about new models for the news business.

Not-for-profit status might be one possibility. Instead of having billionaire moguls as proprietors, we could try to turn them into philanthropists who found nonprofit organizations to buy and operate their local papers. At least one such example exists: the St. Petersburg Times, owned by the Poynter Foundation as a result of a bequest by Nelson Poynter.

Purchasing major newspapers would be costly and perhaps impractical, so a hybrid model may make more sense. We could create a pool of money (possibly from a license fee similar to how the BBC is funded). News organizations with an expensive but important project in mind could apply for funding, much the way producers in the public television world have for the last 40 years. Philanthropy could also play a role here, as Joan Kroc did when she left NPR a $200 million kitty.

We've had experience in the past--the New York City subways come to mind--with businesses that began as conventional, for-profit corporations, and, for one reason or another, were later rendered unprofitable while still being viewed as essential services. It's time to apply some creative thinking to newspapers and, for that matter, to serious journalism in other media. Then we need to convince Americans that they should pay attention to it--and pay for it.

Everyone knows the BBC is a model of impartiality! Instead of using government power to coerce the public into paying attention and money, the print newspaper industry should probably die off as did the town criers of old. Government funded media is just about the worst conceivable conflation of roles.

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