The FTC Ponders the Future of Journalism

notebook_reporterThe federal government is wading into deliberations over the future of journalism as printed newspapers, television stations and other traditional media outlets suffer from Americans’ growing reliance on the Internet.

With the media business in a state of economic distress as audiences and advertisers migrate online, the Federal Trade Commission began a two-day workshop Tuesday to examine the profound challenges facing media companies and explore ways the government can help them survive.

Media executives taking part are looking for a new business model for an industry that is watching traditional advertising revenue dry up, without online revenue growing quickly enough to replace it. Government officials want to protect a critical pillar of democracy — a free press.

“News is a public good,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. “We should be willing to take action if necessary to preserve the news that is vital to democracy.”

The workshop is drawing speakers from both traditional and new media, including Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp.; Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Web site; and Len Downie, former executive editor of The Washington Post.

Executives from Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. were also scheduled to participate, as were several government officials, including Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Among the options being discussed: tax law changes that would allow media companies to earn tax credits or become tax-exempt entities, and copyright law changes that would force search engines and other online aggregrators to compensate media companies for the content they produce.

Also on the table is a proposed change in antitrust rules to allow newspapers to jointly negotiate payments from Web sites that use their content.

The FTC is planning more workshops in the spring to discuss in greater depth the ideas that emerge this week.

Congress has also tried to tackle questions about the future of the media business, particularly print journalism. Last spring, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., held a hearing on the financial troubles facing the newspaper industry. And Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., has introduced a bill that would allow newspapers to restructure as non-profits.

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