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Destroying Journalism In Order to Save It?
One definition of suboptimization is doing something well that shouldn't have been done in the first place. Suboptimization is an apt description of Federal Trade Commission's project to develop ways the government could aid traditional news organizations during journalism's "reinvention" in the internet age.

The FTC's core mission is to protect consumers by countering anti-competitive business actions and "unfair and deceptive acts or practices." The Commission's job does not extend to looking for ways to shield old-line businesses from the effects of technological and cultural changes.

Many of the draft document's proposed recommendations include direct and indirect forms of government support for the media, such as establishing a "national fund for local news." Also discussed is the possibility of converting news organizations into tax-exempt organizations which could limit their ability to engage in political commentary.

The problem with federal support for private news organizations is that the news media is an irreplaceable watchdog and watchdogs rarely bite the hand that feeds them. Irrespective of whatever protections may be put in place, to the extent that the media is dependent of federal benevolence, they will not be independent watchdogs. Thus, the various support recommendations might save some businesses but would undermine journalism focused on public oversight of federal actions and inactions.

One issue that was strangely overlooked in the agency's discussion of internet age media is the changing ways in which the public stays informed about policy issues and participates in the associated debate. The growing use of blogs and Interactive Public Dockets (IPDs) should be a basic topic in any agency analysis of internet age media. Instead of seeking ways to support select industries, agencies should be examining ways of encouraging the use of private-sector IPDs, as the FDA recently did by publishing an announcement of an IPD on its transparency blog.

The FTC is an admirable organization that enjoys substantial intellectual resources. It is incumbent on the Commission to use them wisely.

See FTC Staff Discussion Draft, "Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism"

See "Withering Watchdogs"

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