Monday, December 1, 2008

A bail-out for ink-stained wretches

The government is injecting several trillion dollars into the mortgage, insurance and investment industries, and will likely pony up an addition $25 billion to keep the automobile business afloat. Couldn’t it scrounge up a measly billion or two to prevent the media from completely flat-lining?

Granted, the communications business doesn’t comprise as many jobs as the GM/Ford/Chrysler black hole, but it’s as important to the economies of New York and other places as the car business is to Detroit. It’s also of singular importance to a democracy, as the Founding Fathers acknowledged by citing the press in the Constitution.

This wouldn’t have to be a giveaway. Rather, the money could be used to help media complete the agonizing transformation from paper to digital, from Gutenberg to Gates? Having been on the forefront of that changeover, I know how difficult it is to come up with a new business model that makes sense. Government support would buy the trade some time to figure it out.

I’m hoping that, at the very least, Barack Obama’s obvious appreciation for F.D.R.’s job-creation methods might lead him to one of the New Deal’s most intriguing programs, the Federal Writers’ Project. In forming that wrinkle to the Works Projects Administration, the federal government kept writers from starving, using them for what amounted to busy work until the economy could revive. Among the soon-to-be-luminaries who took part were talents like John Steinbeck, Conrad Aiken and Richard Wright. They drafted travel guides that are still used by those of us who value the telling as much as the content of sightseeing directories.

The feds should consider a program where it’d subsidize the salaries journalists and thereby help newspapers and magazines make the transition to a digital era where advertising is an anachronism. How many of us, for instance, have been trained to conceptualize and execute webinars, meetings, conferences or any other direct interaction with an audience? And yet, until recently, that was the major area of growth for many print media.

The same holds true for new vistas of journalism, like message groups, moderated chats and blogging to a specific audience. Those are the future for our business. And a few dollars from the government might help to usher it in.

So, where do I sign?

1 comment:

  1. Try Drinking Green

    There's a meeting spot on Long Island and there's one just a train ride away into the ya go
    - Try it! Tell them we sent ya. Cheers!