Save WI newspapers, but what’s a newspaper?

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Rep. Marlin Schneider is either a strong believer in the free press or he is desperate to get newspapers off his back. Either way, the outcome of this idealism/cynicism may very well be a solid measure to keep local newspapers afloat in Wisconsin:

A Wisconsin state lawmaker known for his rocky relationship with the press wants to save newspapers even though he admits to sometimes hating reporters.

“It’s hard for me because you guys jerk me around all the time,” said Democratic state Rep. Marlin Schneider, a 39-year veteran from Wisconsin Rapids, at a Tuesday news conference. “Some days I hate your guts.”

Schneider said his volatile relationship with the press will protect him from accusations that he’s doing favors for the industry. In recent years Schneider, a privacy advocate, has often clashed with media groups over how much information should be made public through the state’s online court system.

The plan announced by Schneider on Tuesday would make any building associated with newspaper production exempt from property taxes. Currently, printing presses only are exempt. Because it has yet to be formally introduced, there is no cost estimate.

This is a good plan. If passed, there have to be strong protections built in that prevent future lawmakers from using the tax-exempt status to blackmail nosey papers. There are many forms of government media participation which are wrongheaded and run against the tenants of free speech, such as the Fairness Doctrine, which far too many liberals tout as the answer to the cable news catastrophe. We don’t need government regulation, we need government investment. In addition to Schneider’s proposal, there needs to be a serious movement to push for more public media outlets, such as PBS. It would cost so little but do so much.

The inevitable question, however, is what constitutes a newspaper? Can anybody who puts out a newsletter make an attempt at tax-exempt status? There were surely be definitions in the legislation – let’s hope they put up walls to prevent non-news corporations from exploiting the loophole by claiming that they too “put out news.”

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8 Responses to “Save WI newspapers, but what’s a newspaper?”

  1. Jesse Says:

    I consider dane101 an online newspaper. Does this make my home tax exempt? I work for a radio news service that also posts news on the Internet, does this make the building we operate out of tax exempt? I have it on good authority that many local reporters produce their news stories at coffee shops, does this make the coffee shops tax exempt?

    Do weeklies count? Does a publication like the Cap Times which produces more online content then print content qualify?

  2. Jesse Says:

    Oh! And, yeah, dane101 plans to put out a printed annual next year which will include original reporting exclusive to the publication. Will that earn us a tax exemption?

  3. Erik Paulson Says:

    Three things:

    The best thinker in this area is Clay Shirky. Andew Sullivan linked to this today:

    http://www.niemanlab.org/2009/09/clay-shirky-let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom-to-replace-newspapers-dont-build-a-paywall-around-a-public-good/

    Jesse – how many articles like Dusty’s Edgewater series can we expect dane101 to do over the next year?

    Finally, It turns out that under the UW system policy, seg fees can fund student newspapers. I doubt that the Badger Herald or Daily Cardinal would want to go through it unless they had to, but no one’s been able to come up with a reason they wouldn’t be able to get funding through the GSSF. They’d have to change their organization a bit, but I think they could get eligibility basically as-is.

    One thing I’ve been thinking a bit about is if the GSSF is isolated enough that papers would feel truly independent. ASM may want to create a funding process explicitly for media or journalism with more protections – though maybe anything a newspaper would need any group would need, too. I don’t know what that would look like. (And it’s complicated for me to really propose something, given my affiliation with both ASM and the BH). I’d rather us think about this now, instead of later when one of the papers might be coming to ASM saying “it’s either this or we stop publishing”.

    • Jesse Says:

      @Erik If stories like the one we asked Dusty about the Edgewater to write are pitched and the story is approved by our editorial committee we will pay for them.

      • Jesse Says:

        Wow ,that was a poorly formed sentence. It should read “We asked Dusty to write the Edgewater piece, but if other reporters want to pitch stories of similar quality we can pay for them. The pitch only needs to pass our editorial committee.”

  4. Kevin Bargnes Says:

    Not to get on our high horse or anything, but the Herald would go under before asking for GSSF money. The Cardinal did accept money from ASM in 1995 in the form of a loan that I believe was eventually paid back.

  5. Emily Says:

    I think the proposal is worth serious consideration, and certainly has the potential to do a lot of good for newspapers. But, as has already been pointed out, it would require a great deal of careful wording to make sure the tax exempt status wasn’t abused, both in terms of organizations that don’t really need it trying to qualify and politicians using it as a way to blackmail news outfits they didn’t like.

  6. anonners Says:

    kevin–

    we at the cardinal would all personally cuss out our own mothers before accepting gssf money, so take THAT!!

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