Monday, March 30, 2009

Around the Web in Eighty Seconds

I'd like to serve up a bit of recent news and a couple of comments to garnish it. So, here's a brief trip around the web.

First, it's fascinating to observe culture, rather like a birdwatcher. After two years at the helm of University of Kentucky basketball, the administration fired the U.K. coach Friday, to replace him with a new coach today - Calipari, from recently successful Memphis. The spectrum of reactions range from national sports commentators, who find it puzzling and inexcusable to fire a coach after only two seasons, to local sportswriters, who think that Billy Gillespie can't get out of town fast enough. And that, my friends, is the fervor of Kentucky basketball fans. This year, U.K. didn't make it to the NCAA Tournament: the equivalent in newsworthiness here in the Bluegrass of, say, the Madoff scandal breaking in Manhattan. I understand the outsiders' perspective, but there are a couple of traditions in Kentucky you don't mess with: mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby, and a winning basketball program at U.K.

Today I heard a clip of President Obama's press conference, an update on the automotive bailout and extension of the hastily drafted Hail Mary plan that the two loan recipients need more time to work on. He made a couple of statements that left me with some questions.

While it's true that the economy can't handle the loss of any of the Big Three automakers - let's just take that as a premise - and while we all recognize that the government can't bail out every industry - that simply isn't feasible - my question is this: if the bailout plan calls for lots of infrastructure spending, and if the auto industry was seen as an indespensible part of American identity, innovation, and economy - what about the newspapers that have, quite literally, been folding?

I can't keep up with the number of classic old papers turning out their lights and shutting their doors - and magazines, too. Here was the presidential reasoning in the press conference: the economy can't absorb the loss of a Detroit automaker; the automakers are emblematic of American invention, innovation, industry, and economy; and lots of support businesses will fail if the automakers fail.

Given those specific criteria, why would the publishing industry not be worthy of a bailout? Newspapers from sea to shining sea are stopping the presses - yet journalism is richly emblematic of American invention, innovation, industry, and economy; just look at "Citizen Kane."

"But," you say, "it's a dying industry. Everything's going digital."

Is it? Is that why vinyl records are becoming popular again, alongside iTunes? Is that why investors spend thousands of dollars on comic books? Is that why I still enjoy buying a tangible copy of a magazine at the supermarket? Is that why I love getting mail in my mailbox - the one outside by the road, not my email?

Consider this: technology is at once globally accessible, and globally inaccessible. For instance, a reader in Great Britain can agree or disagree with my words above. But the poor do not have as easy access to computers and the internet. In many countries around the world, internet cafes still exist. When I visited Mongolia, we stopped by a business with about eight computers set up, and paid per twenty minutes to be on the internet. It's not only in other countries, though - there are still people in the United States who can't afford Blackberries, or who live in rural areas with limited internet access. I notice that it's only people with high speed internet, or iPhones, who declare print to be dead. But has anyone noticed a slight, oh, credit crisis in the past six months? Individuals who have augmented their monthly expenditures with credit cards or second mortgages are going to have to cut back - majorly - on luxuries.

And accessing the Wall Street Journal from your phone is a luxury.

I think it's easily argued that the publishing industry is not only emblematic of American drive and innovation - it represents Freedom of the Bloomin' Press. The poor have a right to the news as much as anybody. And mark my words, if the economy continues to get worse before it gets better, you'll see more people unable to pay huge monthly fees to get internet access on their MIR-level cellphones, and more people digging around in their pockets for a few quarters for a newspaper.

The bailout I'd like to see? Subscriptions to newspapers and magazines for every federal employee. And I'd like to see aggregate sites - sites that link to other people's hard-earned news - have to pay through the nose. Websites like the Huffington Post rake in lots of profits from their ads - but they link to stories that newspapers, yes newspapers, have produced. It's not much removed from pirated movies or music. But it's legal. If a website does over a certain amount of profit, specifically from providing a high volume of links to other peoples' stories - well, I think they should have to pay the producers of the newsstories for the use.

Well, if you're too stressed to think about the state of print in the United States, have some fun designing a new Dunkin' Donuts donut at their website. Mmmm. Donut. Reminds me of Election Day, when Starbucks gave me free coffee and Krispy Kreme gave me a free donut for voting. That was a delicious vote.

Speaking of Starbucks, have any of you recessionistas noticed a renewed interest in gift cards? Old gift cards with a few bucks on them have all of a sudden become an intriguing commodity again. Go through your wallet: you may find several dollars for a restaurant or store.

I admit: that was my way of subtly implanting "Starbucks" and "gift card" in your brain when you think of this blog. What's that? Grande nonfat mocha with whip? I'd be delighted.

I'll sip it while I read my tangible, ink and paper local rag, and watch local Kentuckians dust their hands with satisfaction at getting a new coach.

Alright, that was longer than eighty seconds. Don't worry: only a few newspapers folded in that time.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, I was with you with the whole Kentucky basketball thing. The dude never wanted to be there in the first place, he needed to go. However, NO bailouts please. None. Nada. When businesses fail they fail. Sorry, just a beef of mine. I look for your blog everyday. :) Well, maybe church bailouts. LOL.

Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

In general, I completely agree: the gov't should have a hands-off policy with the private sector.

That being said, if they're going to do a bailout - and they have, and will likely continue - if it's going to happen, I'd at least like to chime in my two cents on how it will be implemented. It's just inconsistent to say one industry is indispensable when the described characteristics that make it so can be attributed to other industries as well.