On July 13, 2009 (Monday The 13th), the Claremont Eagle-Times died. Diagnosis was Internet Deficiency Disease, complicated by obesity. The body was properly interred in Chapter 7 Acres; the funeral was attended mostly by the 66 full-time and 29 part-time former employees. But E-T didn’t stay dead.
On October 12 the Claremont Eagle-Times mysteriously reappeared. The front page featured a picture of New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, together with a congratulatory letter from him. Why did he deserve this free publicity?
Because the chilling secret ingredient of the voodoo potion that reanimated the Eagle-Times is… taxpayer money. (Wow, you didn’t see that surprise twist coming, did you!) The State of New Hampshire’s Department of Chaotic Evil, the Business Finance Authority, issued a loan guarantee for $187,500 to the Transylvanian* corporation that owns the newspaper.
So, does anyone see anything wrong with taxpayer-supported newspapers? Not Governor Lynch; when questioned about the obvious conflict of interest, he said u201CIt’s really more of a job development, economic development type of issue.u201D As we all know, it is the government’s job to confiscate money from us and use it to fund economic development. If government didn’t do this, where would jobs and economic development come from?
The competing newspapers who didn’t receive a subsidy were less sure of the benefit to humanity as a whole, and themselves in particular. The Nov. 15 Manchester Union Leader said:
u201CYou will get no argument from us about newspapers’ value to a republic. But the civic services journalists perform are beside the point. A newspaper is a private enterprise. The state’s duty is to spend taxpayer money on legitimate public services that only the state can provide. Bankrolling a business — any business — is not one of those functions.
This loan guarantee is far from the state’s first. The Business Finance Authority obtains state guarantees for private business loans all the time. This is an obvious misuse of taxpayer-backed credit.
Any public benefit that accrues from the success of a private business will be tangential to the benefit that accrues to the owner. One could argue that there is no public benefit at all in the case of the Eagle Times because when the paper closed, several others, including this one, stepped in to take its place. The state is doing nothing more than subsidizing one among many competing businesses.u201D
But is this really a big deal? The letters to the Union Leader were split between pro- and anti- zombie-newspaper views. The anti-zombie letters were all pretty similar, complaining that government-backed media has been linked to violence, financial malfeasance, and brain eating. They all recommended the traditional zombie home remedy (an externally applied cranial kinetic energy injection).
The pro-zombie group were more in a spirit of compromise and good feeling. They asked why newspapers should be singled out as the only industry that doesn’t get to have zombies. There are zombie banks, zombie farms, zombie car companies, universities etc. etc. So in their view, trying to keep government from reanimating newspapers is either anti-newspaper or possibly even a cover for anti-Undead-American bigotry.
There were also a few letters from actual zombies. Some of them claimed that loan guarantees u201Caren’t subsidies,u201D so I took down their names and put them down as co-signers on my mortgage. Others suggested that most newspapers have been intellectual zombies for years, and should be covered by some sort of grandfather clause.
What is so viscerally horrifying about zombie newspapers? If trillions of dollars can be confiscated from the productive class and pumped into zombie banks, should we be concerned about $187,500 going to a town paper in New Hampshire with a circulation of 7,900? After all, newspapers are supposed to be a dying industry; isn’t it OK to have a few of their picturesque corpses staggering over the media landscape, feeding on the living economy?
Well, you may think that one zombie is OK, even cutely hideous. But as your mother told you when you brought that zombie home for a pet, zombies multiply. The same is true of subsidies. First one newspaper gets a subsidy, then another, then they’re all zombies and their propaganda-loaded pages are being hurled through your windows at 3 AM and consuming your neurons. After all, media is the only industry where the whole output goes directly into human brains.
You’ll be hearing a lot more proposals to u201Csave newspapersu201D by transfusing dead ones with money from the living. And it will happen. There will be business sections full of articles supporting zombie bank bailouts, stories ghostwritten by the industries and political organizations they cover — even cartoons drawn by dead guys (hard to believe, I know).
*OK, they CLAIM to be Penn-sylvanian. Even worse, if true.
Bill Walker [send him mail] is a research technologist. He lives with his wife and four dogs in Grafton NH, where they are active in the Free State Project.