@ Media & Money: No Government Bailout For Newspapers; WSJ’s Thompson: Newspapers Already Non-Profit

Given the level of distress throughout the newspaper business these days, maybe the industry should consider lobbying Capitol Hill for a bailout of its own? While it’s safe to say that’s not going to happen, panelists speaking about “old media” at the Dow Jones/Nielsen Media and Money Conference told moderator Harry Hawkes, partner, Booz & Co. Nevertheless, they were willing to entertain the idea.

Lee Abrams, SVP, chief innovation officer, Tribune Co.: A bailout would be a terrible idea. If that would happen, newspapers would eventually wind up in worse shape, since they would then focus on this ultra-elite 0.5 percent and would otherwise be unreachable to the mass audience. The best analogy I can think of would be if the government had decided to come in the 1950s to subsidize classical music to counter the emergence of rock music.

Jeffrey Stevenson, managing partner/co-CEO, Veronis Suhler Stevenson: [Tongue planted firmly in cheek] We would love that idea. In fact, we would love to help finance a $25 billion plan to help newspapers bridge the digital divide. I don’t think it would work, necessarily, but it would be good for our company.

Jeffrey Smulyan, chairman, CEO, Emmis Communications: I don’t see a bailout serving as a basis for a turnaround for the newspaper business. But a not-for-profit model actually could be a good idea for some.

Lauren Rich Fine, research director, ContentNext; media professor, Kent State: There’s a lot of really good models out there. There’s no single solution for newspapers, however. The industry will be saved, but a government bailout isn’t going to do it. Having a lot of debt forces you to move a lot faster. I don’t see a return to the previous levels of profitability for newspapers, mainly due to the changes affecting classified advertising. But as Robert [Thompson, managing editor, WSJ/editor-in-chief, Dow Jones] said, newspapers’ individual brands have value. That’s what they have to build on.

Best line: On the not-for-profit model, Thompson quipped: “The newspaper business has actually been non-profit for quite a while now.”

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