A Federal Trade Commission Staff Discussion Draft (link opens a PDF document) was discussed by Glenn Beck during his radio show that aired June 1. The FTC released the document on Friday, May 28, just before a three day holiday weekend. The text below is reprinted directly from the FTC’s working document. It raises serious questions regarding government involvement in the media, including the federal agency exploring ways to “increase revenue to news organizations.”

In May 2009, the Federal Trade Commission announced a project to consider the challenges faced by journalism in the Internet age. Now, one year later, staff responsible for this project present this draft for discussion of 1) the tentative conclusions outlined here about the current and likely future environments for news gathering and reporting, and 2) potential policy recommendations to address the issues raised during this proceeding. We note that this draft does not represent final conclusions or recommendations by the Commission or FTC staff; it is solely for purposes of discussion, in particular at FTC roundtable discussions to be held on June 15, 2010, at the National Press Club.

Journalism is moving through a significant transition in which business models are crumbling, innovative new forms of journalism are emerging, and consumer news habits are changing rapidly. We are greatly indebted to the many journalists, newspaper publishers and editors, creators of new online news organizations, economists, lawyers, academics, and others who have contributed their time and expertise to describe and analyze this transition, thus providing the foundation for this document. Many have already organized conferences and written reports that expertly aggregate and assess the vast majority of the relevant information. We are well aware that we are in no way writing on a clean slate.

Rather, through this document, we seek to prompt discussion of whether to recommend policy changes to support the ongoing “reinvention” of journalism, and, if so, which specific proposals appear most useful, feasible, platform-neutral, resistant to bias, and unlikely to cause unintended consequences in addressing emerging gaps in news coverage. The list of proposals in this document is no doubt incomplete, and we welcome additional proposals, which can be submitted at: http://public.commentworks.com/ftc/newsmediaworkshop. Members of the public also may submit comments on proposals in this document at the same web address.

We anticipate that different participants in the roundtables at which this document will be discussed will criticize some or all proposals, improve others, and add ideas of their own. The purpose of this document is precisely to encourage such additional analyses and brainstorming. …

Proposed Policy Recommendations

The first two sections … (copyright and antitrust, and indirect and direct government funding) address ways in which to increase revenues to news organizations. The succeeding two sections (tax and corporate innovations, and taking advantage of technologies) address ways to innovate so that journalism is accomplished at lower costs. We seek discussion that compares and contrasts these proposals on a number of dimensions. For example: How well would the proposal address emerging gaps in news coverage? How costly and feasible would it be to achieve? To what extent would the proposal likely contribute to more and better journalism? How susceptible is the proposal to creating bias – in terms of news platforms or government interference? How likely is the proposal to create unintended consequences? What will journalism and the news media look like in the future if none of the policy proposals are implemented? If we take a wait and see approach, what are the likely effects, both short- and long-term? Is a “wait-and-see” approach preferable at this time, when experimentation to find new revenue sources is ongoing and the likely effects of some proposals may be difficult to gauge? Comparisons on other dimensions also are welcome. …

I. Potential Revenue Sources from Changes in Law

A. Additional Intellectual Property Rights to Support Claims against News Aggregators

Internet search engines and online news aggregators often use content from news organizations without paying for that use. Some news organizations have argued that existing intellectual property (IP) law does not sufficiently protect their news stories from free riding by news aggregators. They have suggested that expanded IP rights for news stories would better enable news organizations to obtain revenue from aggregators and search engines. …

Proposal 3: Licensing the News

Finally, some suggest that some sort of industry-wide licensing arrangement be adopted, perhaps with the government’s help and support. Foreign governments have considered how to provide adequate incentives and funding for the news and are exploring, for example, the creation of government-fostered pilot programs to investigate new business models for IP and discourage free-riding. Such programs might enable newspapers and other content providers to experiment with “micropayments” and other means to monetize digital content. Such market and policy experiments may provide useful insight to continued IP policy discussions. …

The document continues. The public should know more about the FTC’s delineated proposals to “save” journalism. This ongoing effort by the federal government to favor certain media outlets calls for extremely close scrutiny by honest reporters who believe in working for  an informed public.

—Daniel Crandall