RealClearPolitics Media Watch

« Newspapers - Not a Poor Man's Game | Media Watch Home Page | Anything But Kristol-Clear »

Free Press, the French Way

Well, President Obama, maybe it's time to dig into that TARP money to bail out the newspaper industry.

Short of that, how about some government-subsidized delivery service?

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, always a man with an idea and on the move, has unveiled a grand plan to help the also ailing French newspaper industry:

One of Sarkozy's solutions to help the industry is a pilot program that will give teenagers celebrating their 18th birthday a free, yearlong subscription to any general news daily of their choice. The publisher is to give the newspapers away, while the state pays for the deliveries.

That initiative appeared designed to assuage industry fears that young readers don't share the same appetite for print media that their parents and grandparents have, denting current and future revenues.

Not a bad idea, on the surface. But it'll never fly here in the States for various reasons. The French government is already heavily subsidizing the newspaper business, with an annual boost expecting to reach $90 million this year. It's probably not something that will be matched in the less statist economy of the U.S. (though some think that's about to change). Besides, the way the U.S. papers are losing money, $90 million annually aren't enough to bail out even one paper - such as the San Francisco Chronicle.

But more to the point: The force-feeding kids of ink-stained papers just won't work. Back in the late '90s, in the adolescence of the Internet, I taught a few communications classes at UCLA. I made a habit of polling my students on newspaper readership, and even back then the news was not encouraging. With the student paper The Daily Bruin freely distributed and the Los Angeles Times available at a massive student discount, most of the kids still weren't into the papers. Overall, less than 5 percent of the students read newspapers on a regular basis.

With that in mind, Le Monde and Le Figaro had better not stake their futures on Sarkozy's birthday presents.