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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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June 11, 2008 2:38 PM

Panel reflections

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The panel I was part of at the National Conference for Media Reform went well. John Nichols did a great job moderating a solid panel that represented a good cross section of the newspaper business. The turn out was decent. I took this picture of the crowd, which grew as the session wore on.

I particularly enjoyed listening to the two panelists sitting on either side of me, Nick Coleman and Joel Kramer. Coleman is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Kramer heads up MinnPost.com and is a former publisher and editor of the Star Tribune.


Like any good columnist, Coleman did not pull any punches. He blasted Avista, the investment group that owns the Star Tribune. The newspaper, like many others, has gone through buyouts and according to Coleman has taken the reporting of local news to useless micro levels.

Kramer talked about the business model for MinnPost.com. It is a non-profit, which seems to be the case for most for-profit newspapers today. Kramer's is an interesting experiment. Will readers, foundations, and wealthy folks pledge enough money to keep a news Web site running? I hope so. The MinnPost model might not be the future everywhere but it might be part of the answer.

I was able to talk about the one thing I wanted to mention, which is the need for a serious national discussion about the importance of journalism to democracy. Part of the discussion should center on how journalism can be funded. The advertising model has become a problem. Newspapers cannot expect double digit profit margins anymore. This era of single digit profit margins will be hard on publically traded companies that must meet the expectations of Wall Street.

In response to a question during the panel I suggested something that should be considered are incentives for independent news operations. Congress should consider subsidies for journalists, or tax incentives that encourage independent ownership of newspapers and broadcast outlets. Congress, states, and cities give all sorts of tax breaks and subsidies to farmers and all other sorts of businesses like Wal-Mart. Why not assist something like journalism, which is essential to sustaining democracy.

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