A Newspaper Czar?

It was bound to happen. Since the US Government is trying to save the US car industry a debate about what else is worthy enough to be saved by Government intervention was inevitable. As it was inevitable that someone will point out that newspapers are so important, that they should, perhaps, be the next target as Brian Lambert says here.

I always found it interesting how monarchistic the Americans sometime look like, and their propensity to call chiefs of Government programs “Czars” was one of the funnier cases of this quirky fashion. The most hilarious of them, in my mind, was the Drug Czar – who was not, as you might think some kind of all-American supremo of all the drug cartels, but rather a guy supposed to fight them i.e. Anti-drug Czar.

Also, for those of us who spent some years under Russian occupation, having a Czar is not necessarily a good thing, even though he is just a Drug Czar or a Car Czar, or even Newspaper Czar. We with long memories have already been there – I still remember CTK having to send stories to a Politburo member for approval before publication… But, well, he was a comrade, not a Czar.

But, let us go back to Brian Lambert´s argument, which clearly follows up on some ideas I discussed in my previous post about financing the media:

You can do without high school football coverage, even Vikings coverage and crossword puzzles, but only a large, high-profile news organization can produce exposés that the powerful fear.


I, of course, have a brilliant idea. Not so much a “news czar,” although someone would have to lead the whole damned thing, but rather a BBC-style news system, funded (Are you ready for this, you knee-jerk, drown-government-in-the-bathtub, echo chamber addicts?) by taxpayers.

Think about it. We’re establishing a nationalized financial system (to prop up what was a goddamned casino operation at best, which produced almost no goods or services). Now we’re talking about nationalizing the car industry (even though this “car czar” character seems to have no real authority at all). $700 billion-plus for Hank Paulson’s Wall Street pals; $15 to $34 billion for Chrysler, GM, and maybe Ford. So what is maybe, um, maybe $30 billion a year to insure a fully functioning serious press, a la the BBC or NPR?


My Montevideo math tells me that 114 million American households (with television) paying $270 a year would generate approximately $31 billion in revenue. The Star Tribune‘s annual news room budget is currently approximately $23 million, I think. You can figure the rest.


At Maunderings we can read a dissenting voice, however, posting very valid argument:

It seems to me that once the founding families of these papers sold the papers or took them public, two things happened: the papers suddenly had greater pressure to turn out consistent quarter-by-quarter profits, and they became much, much duller.

And so they have, as any journalist would gladly attest. But – Michael Skoler talks here about the issue much more in depth, not concerned with only the dullness and the bean-counters.

He makes several very important points. If journalists do not lead, than the “bean-counters” will, and justly so. He then goes on to say that journalists and intellectual leaders are too concerned about technology – but that is not the answer. “The revolution is much more profound,” he rightly points out and argues that journalists still have a role – only they do not know what that role is. “We are in a mess,” he admits.

I can only agree with him that the major problem is how you tell your story and trust in you (us) – that also explains a lot about spread of “social” networks. I happen to think that we journalists have not understood that the world has changed – not in technological sense (although it did – and it has important consequences) – but in the culture of public discourse of which we are part.

It is no longer a lecture but a conversation. We share our knowledge, contacts, information rather then own them. We do not know, I think, what the business model for such “sharing” is. We are moving into the new world of sharing with our current business model of owning. But there must be a new one.

We are, I think, right as business leaders to stick to known tools rather than risk the immediate well being of those we lead. But we need to know that this can also lead to peril and we need to use the time we have (and I do think we are at the beginning rather than at the end) to think up new models.

Shakespeare was successful and rich long before copyright was invented. Why can´t we? (OK, I am no Shakespeare, but he has not written much lately, has he.)