It used to work quite well:
As mega-companies like Postmedia Inc. struggle to stay afloat and lay off journalists across the country, it may be time for the government to consider stepping in, the panelists said. That could take the form of a public inquiry into the state of news media in Canada, or a more direct approach like increased funding or tax breaks. Or both.
“I think there is some room for creative thinking though, that isn’t necessarily a policy solution, but also recognizing that there could be space for new models … that just aren’t similar to what we’ve seen in the past that have been so dependent upon advertising revenue,” Hilderman said. “I think we have to be careful about trying to create an environment that still allows for some of those creative structures rather than creating a whole new environment that’s strictly dependent upon government.”
No one wants to be "strictly dependent" on the government, but a nice monthly check from Ottawa wouldn't go amiss. The MSM is hardly the first industry to run into hard times before taking a run at the taxpayer's money. The beggar's argument is always the same: Bad luck, lost jobs and unique value. We saw this when GM and Chrysler hit the skids. When that fails there is the always clever sounding "multiplier effect." The argument goes something like this: For every dollar spent in industry X so many millions/billions/ trillions of dollars are generated through out the economy. Then you hire a PR firm to put together a nice glossy report with some reassuringly exact - though entirely made up - numbers. Since determining the actual multiplier effect is anyone's guess, you can't be reproached for lying.
It all sounds terribly impressive until you run into our old friend opportunity costs. The thing about bailouts is that they use other people's money, even worse money that hasn't been persuaded out of the hands of the original owners but coerced. Every dollar spent keeping GM, the Toronto Star or buggy whips in business is a dollar NOT being spent buying iPhones, Tesla cars or new widescreen TVs. To borrow from Bastiat: What is seen is are the jobs saved in the newsroom, what is not seen are the jobs that might have been created had the legacy media been allowed to die its natural death. Government subsidies for failing industries are a way for the past to get in the way of the future.
I'll admit that the future is hardly promising. We seem to be living through a cultural epoch where abstract ideas are slipping beyond the grasp of a semi-educated population. That makes it harder to sustain serious book writing, serious journalism and serious art. It would be very tempting to call upon the state to save something you value highly, though this is a fool's errand. The state does not save the good or the wise, it instead benefits the influential and those useful to its agenda. When government subsidizes art it subsidizes art it deems politically acceptable. If you're a Catholic seeking to paint entirely unironic portraits of the Virgin Mary, good luck with the Arts Council grant application. That same cronyist principle will be applied to government subsidized journalism.
It won't be Ezra Levant, or the Tory milquetoast at what remains of the National Post, who'll be receiving a government paycheque. It'll be the CBC and its near cousins CTV, Global and the Globe. The modest left-wing echo chamber of the Laurentian Elite. The battle cry in favour of government financed journalism will be the compelling public need for "impartial journalism". Yet such a thing has never existed. A journalist can be honest but he or she cannot be impartial. To be truly impartial would require you to ignore judgement, experience and common sense. An impartial journalist would give equal weight to a politician's press release and an auditor's report. Yet an honest journalist knows who has a greater vested interest in lying to the public.
I have no idea how to save real journalism from the barbarians at the gate. While there was no Golden Age of Journalism, there was a time of relative stability for those who lived through it. Hardly wonderful, far from sinless and wicked in its own weird way. Yet in a time of crisis the memories of a more predictable age are very powerful. We may not know the way forward but history teaches us what doesn't work. What doesn't work is government meddling in the media of the nation.