Still big, still uneasy


I was hoping that my writing on the news situation(job slashing and four days a week with no daily newspaper)  in the great American city of New Orleans would spark some discussion, and it has. Today Josh Stearns of the Free Press -- a leading media reform group -- looks at some of the obstacles to getting more news to the Crescent City and its poorer residents.

Yes, there's another Republican-governor-from-Hell involved:

He’s right that a big part of the problem is money. But in this case, the financial woes can be traced in part to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who “refused an $80 million federal grant aimed at spreading broadband to poor, rural areas of the state.” That federal grant was part of the $7 billion set aside for expanding broadband in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Another part of the problem is the lack of real competition in the broadband Internet market, which has kept prices unreasonably high and service unreasonably poor in many regions around the US. In response, many communities have sought to establish their own municipal broadband networks. In fact, one of the nation’s models for this effort is just up the road from New Orleans, in Lafayette, La. The telecom companies fought the creation of Lafayette’s municipal network tooth and nail. Now many of those same incumbent Internet service providers around the country are working to pass state legislation outlawing such networks.

There's been a ton of good writing about what, unfortunately, could be the downfall of good writing in New Orleans. One of the best pieces comes from sometimes Attytood reader (no, seriously) Harry Shearer, who lives in the city part-time and has made its salvation something of a crusade.

Okay, the argument goes, the decision to turn the paper into the Sometimes-Picayune may ignore local realities both cultural and statistical, but it’s Advance’s bat and ball. If they want to play only on the days when advertisers really want to buy space, that’s their right.

Yet it is funny the word “right” should pop up. The newspaper business lives off the benefits of free speech, which all citizens enjoy, but none more than news outlets, who put out so much of it. The First Amendment offers government protection against almost all lawsuits from angry politicians, lazy ballplayers, and dim-witted celebrities whose exploits may be reported to their dismay. Should there be a societal expectation that the proprietors of such privileged enterprises owe a little something back—perhaps a calm acceptance of a lower profit margin than could be attained, say, in the car-leasing business? The TP, after all, is still reported to be profitable.

Which all comes back to my original points, which is that no one is happy with the current state of affairs but there are creative solutions. I think Josh Stearns makes a significant point that I overlooked, which is that while direct government involvement in the news is bad, there are valuable ways for government to support public infrastructure such as broadband and wireless. Stearns also notes that Louisiana also has slashed funding for public radio -- which I know here in Philadelphia has helped fill some of the gap as the newspaper shrinks.

I had not intended to make this a political post, but between Lousiana's failures on Internet access and public broadcasting and the school voucher debacle I wrote about last night, you really have to wonder if Bobby Jindal wants his citizens to be dumb.

Footnote: Last week in my writing I overlooked the work of a great non-profit news site that was launched in New Orleans  in 2010 called The Lens.  I certainly hope this situation will help them to grow and flourish as a source of public information.