Senator Cardin: Non-Profit Help OK for Local Newspapers, but Not The Senator?

US Senator Benjamin Cardin - Maryland

US Senator Benjamin Cardin (D - Maryland)

I was driving home yesterday when a radio news brief informed me that Maryland’s “junior” senator, Ben Cardin (D) has proposed legislation, “The Newspaper Revitalization Act” to relax federal rules for becoming a non-profit organization. He’s apparently doing this to offer help to “community” newspapers*, whom he says are endangered and should be allowed the opportunity to become “educational” non-profits.

Why do I find this interesting? Earlier this year, as the alarm bells began to sound in regard to The Senator’s future, my daughter wrote to Senator Benjamin Cardin asking him to step in and help with the proposed non-profit plan. What follows is his response:

Thank your for contacting my office regarding the privately owned Senator Theatre.

You have raised an issue that does not fall within my jurisdiction as a federal legislator. The issue you raise is a matter that must be addressed by the owner of the property.

If my office can be of assistance to you in the future concerning a problem with a federal agency, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator

So, an award-winning, community supportive, Baltimore icon, that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places is simply a “privately owned” business that is “not within his jurisdiction”…
But, LOCAL newspapers are an endangered species that demand his attention? Aren’t these “privately owned” as well?

Frankly, in my opinion this letter was nothing short of “Why are you bothering me with this?”

Excuse us. We’re Maryland residents who thought a community-centered Maryland business was worthy of your attention. Apparently we were wrong.

Now, one could point out that his support is for newspapers nationwide and one would be correct.

One could also point out that attempting legislation for a single business should not be a federal-level issue; also correct.

However:

  1. What is wrong with simply stating support for a nationally recognized icon from one’s own state?
  2. What is wrong with impressing upon your fellow state and city politicians that you’ve been alerted to something that is worthy of their attention?

Many have pointed to the evolution of communication as the reason newsprint is failing. I’ve been hearing about declining subscriptions for ages now. However, Senator Cardin wants you and his colleagues to believe that they are simply suffering from the economic downturn.

I’ve read/heard folks express the following sentiment when presented with the prospect of saving The Senator Theatre, “It’s  a free market, if it can’t cut it, let it fail.” I have to gather from Senator Cardin’s letter, that this is his stance on the theatre as well. So, why is it his position is 180 degrees when it comes to the newspapers?*

It’s not that I like the prospect of the newspaper folks losing their jobs & certainly don’t take delight in it. My point is that, once again, there seems to be stark differences as to what our representatives view as important, as well as a disconnect/disregard for what their constituents also consider important.

* Interesting to note: WBAL reports, “Cardin says the measure is targeted to preserve local newspapers serving communities and not large newspaper conglomerates.”, while in his video of his presentation to the U.S. Senate, he uses The Sun as example of a strapped newspaper…

If anyone else would like to let Ben Cardin know how they feel about his stance on the theatre and/or his proposed newspaper aid, visit:

http://cardin.senate.gov/contact/index.cfm

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting. I saw an article yesterday that relates to this.

    Some civic leaders say returning the hometown newspaper to local ownership is a way to preserve a city’s identity. Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation in Baltimore, every year tries to get the Tribune Company to sell him The Baltimore Sun, which has had two long-distance owners in the last 10 years.The foundation Embry runs was created by the families that once owned The Baltimore Sun.

    Every year the answer is, No, thank you. Still,Embry persists. “People come in, stay a bit, leave, and that is fine,” he said. “But they deal with things out of context. They have no loyalty to the community. I do think it’s important that the people running a newspaper understand the history.”

    Where have I seen that name Robert Embry before? Isn’t he the same guy who’s on the CHAP commission?

  2. Newspapers are fast becoming obsolete. Newspapers are not important to society; journalism is. What does the future hold for journalism? I don’t know. http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/

    A first-run single screen theatre, run independently, and with the size of the Senator… this seems to also be obsolete in this day and age. However, with the business politics in place (e.g. “clearance” and absurdly unfair arrangements to get blockbuster movies), I suspect this is more due to the politics of oligopolistic movie studios and multi-plex-theater chains than due to any inherent technical or macroeconomic reason.

    However, the Senator has paths open to it, to keep it relevant to the community: it doesn’t need to only show first run movies, and it doesn’t need to be limited to movies. It can provide value to the community as a local arts-and-entertainment hub, and generate new revenue streams through that. And, it could support itself in part by community “ownership” (i.e. a non-profit with members who make regular donations).

    I’m hopeful. But we do need to get the word out (as you said, “What is wrong with [Ben Cardin] simply stating support for a nationally recognized icon from one’s own state?”). And we need to make sure that people can both *trust* the new ownership and direction of the Senator, but also get infected with the vision. In short, we need to get better marketing, and fast!


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