By: ANDREW MIGA
Layoffs, closings and cutbacks have turned the nation’s newspapers into an endangered species as readers and advertisers rush to Web sites and blogs, a top lawmaker said Wednesday.
Hours before a Senate hearing on struggling newspapers, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said steps must be taken so the news media can stay diverse and independent.
“As a means of conveying news in a timely way, paper and ink have become obsolete, eclipsed by the power, efficiency and technological elegance of the Internet,” Kerry said in prepared remarks. “But just looking at the erosion of newspapers is not the full picture; it’s just one casualty of a completely shifting and churning information landscape.”
Kerry, chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, said newspapers resemble an endangered species. The panel was scheduled to hear from Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who has proposed allowing newspapers to choose tax-exempt status and operate as nonprofits similar to public broadcasting stations.
Papers would no longer be able to make political endorsements, but could report on all issues including political campaigns. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax-exempt, and contributions to support coverage could be tax deductible under Cardin’s plan.
Cardin has said his bill is aimed at preserving local papers, not large newspaper conglomerates.
Kerry said he was concerned that traditional journalistic standards on fairness and accuracy could suffer as newspapers falter.
“Will the emerging news media be more fragmented by interests and political partisanship?” Kerry asked. “There also is the important question of whether online journalism will sustain the values of professional journalism, the way the newspaper industry has.”
The Boston Globe in Kerry’s home state is the latest major paper facing the threat of closure unless it can cut costs. The Globe and its largest employees union reached a tentative deal early Wednesday on concessions that union officials hope will keep the 137-year-old newspaper publishing.
Already this year, E.W. Scripps Co. closed the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and Hearst Corp. stopped printing the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, making it online only. The Christian Science Monitor stopped daily publication in favor of a weekly print edition with online news. Other major newspaper companies, including the owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, have filed for bankruptcy protection.
Among those scheduled to testify are Arianna Huffington, editor-and-chief of The Huffington Post, and David Simon, who is a former reporter at The Baltimore Sun and creator of the HBO drama “The Wire.”