The Federal Trade Commission has posted a staff-generated discussion paper (pdf) on the news business, including a proposal to give news organizations antitrust exemptions that would allow them to "agree jointly to erect pay walls so that consumers must pay for access to online content" and "agree jointly on a mechanism to require news aggregators and others to pay for the use of online content, perhaps through the use of copyright licenses." Another proposal: "indirect and direct government support." Options include "establish a 'journalism' division of AmeriCorps," the federal national service program, "a tax credit to news organizations for every journalist they employ," "citizenship news vouchers" that would give every American tax money to allocate to non-profit news organizations of their choice, and "grants to universities to conduct investigative journalism."
Other idea include allowing Voice of Ameria and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty content to be rebroadcast in America (currently illegal on the grounds that the government shouldn't be propagandizing American citizens or competing with private broadcasters). The $35 billion a year or so these ideas would cost would be funded by a tax on the broadcast spectrum to be paid by commercial radio and television broadcasters, a 5% tax on consumer electronics, and a 2% sales tax on advertising.
Some people will wonder what is the problem that these proposals are intended to solve. Others will see it as a way for the Obama administration to reward its allies in the generally left-leaning press. There's a section at the end of the paper on corporate structures for online news organizations (for profit, non-profit, some hybrid of the two) that I found somewhat interesting. The idea of taxing some guy who works at a warehouse and using the money to provide a federal tax credit to Arthur Sulzberger Jr. for employing Thomas Friedman or to S.I. Newhouse for employing Malcolm Gladwell strikes me as a major Reverse Robin-Hood that also has the problem of putting the federal government or the IRS in the business of defining who or what qualifies as a "journalist." Does Jon Stewart qualify? Stephen Colbert? Rush Limbaugh? Arianna Huffington?
Link via Jeff Jarvis (via Romenesko).