Saying that he is a "big newspaper junkie," President Barack Obama expressed hope Friday that newspapers can find their way through the financial crisis in which most are now mired.
In an Oval Office interview with editors from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, the president spoke of the vital role journalism and newspapers play in American society.
"Journalistic integrity, you know fact-based reporting, serious investigative reporting, how to retain those ethics in all these different new media and how to make sure that it's paid for, is really a challenge," Mr. Obama said. "But it's something that I think is absolutely critical to the health of our democracy."
Across the country, newspapers are struggling to maintain readership and advertising revenue that has been lost to the Internet. Thousands of journalists have been laid off, and over the past year several newspapers have closed. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver shut down, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer moved to the Web, and several large newspaper corporations filed for bankruptcy, including the Tribune Company, which operates the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.
Mr. Obama said he has noted the trend.
"I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context," he said, "that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.
"What I hope is that people start understanding if you're getting your newspaper over the Internet, that that's not free. And there's got to be a way to find a business model that supports that."
Several bills have been introduced in Congress to aid the newspaper industry, including a Senate measure that would allow newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofit organizations with a variety of tax breaks.
Mr. Obama was noncommittal about that legislation, but said: "I haven't seen detailed proposals yet, but I'll be happy to look at them."
The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, is the sister paper of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a member of the Block News Alliance. Dave Murray is the special assignments editor for The Blade. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-351-0265.