Newspapers are worried about their future. Yesterday they went to parliament to ask for financial help, claiming that otherwise some of them will go under. Advertising revenue is plummeting and circulation has been falling for years.
Indeed things are pretty bad, editorial floors are being squeezed which means quality and breadth of reporting will eventually suffer.
But a government handout is not really the answer. What the papers really need is a level playing field and measures to promote earnings from online activities.
Holland has an absurd system under which the public broadcasters get state funding as well as being allowed to sell advertising. These broadcasters can use tax payers’ money to develop websites and mobile phone information services which carry advertising.
One newspaper has calculated that banning commercials on public broadcasters would deliver €40m a year in extra revenue for the newspaper sector.
This would also give a significant push to the development of web-based activities so that newspapers will eventually be able to offset declines in circulation.
But the government will not do the sensible thing. Instead it is planning to give even more subsidy to the fragmented and highly inefficient public broadcasting sector.
So we lose quality at both ends: public broadcasters dumbing down to compete for audience ratings and newspaper editors with not enough staff to generate their own news stories. Hold the front page!