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State of the Debate
George Pyle
George Pyle has been a newspaper writer in Kansas, Utah, Upstate New York, and now Utah again, for more than 30 years - most of it as an editorial writer and columnist. Now on his second tour of duty on The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, he has also done a stretch as a talk radio host, published a book on the ongoing flaws of U.S.agricultural policy and, in 1998, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. His most active bookmarks are Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and Tina Brown. And he still thinks the Internet can be used for intelligent conversation and uplifting ideas.

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This weekend’s column: Newspapers need SuperPacs ...

The members of ALEC are right. We’re just jealous.

Those who stood outside the past week’s confab of legislators from the 50 states and lobbyists from the Fortune 500 and either sniped (activists) or viewed with alarm (editorial writers) are troubled by the fact that the alliance of middle government and high finance has apparently been much more successful than any analogous assemblage of either public interest groups or crusading journalists.

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So, when Bob Edgar, the head of Common Cause, calls the American Legislative Exchange Council "the poster child for non-transparent infrastructure that puts corporate profits ahead of the public interest," it is easy for ALEC members, specifically New Mexico state Rep. Paul Bandy, to say that his group is a target simply because it works. And, by implication, works better than anything put together by organizations with different priorities.

It’s true for progressive groups, of course. It’s also true for the independent observers in the American news media.

Everyone knows our old business model is busted. Owning a newspaper through much of American history was basically a license to print money. Now, with the digital world drawing off readers and, much more importantly, advertisers, we are scurrying about trying to find a new way to make the news business profitable enough to pay for all the investigating and bird-dogging that real journalism entails.

What newspapers need, then, are their own SuperPacs.

Right now, we talk to just about anybody, hear out all views, invite interest groups and political candidates of all persuasions to meet with our editorial boards. And we don’t charge any of those people or groups a dime.

For example, your Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board is in the process of setting up meetings with the various candidates for governor, Congress and a few other offices for the purposes of writing endorsement editorials that will appear on these pages before the November election.

The meetings will be in our conference room. No $10,000-a-plate dinners. No rounds of golf. No Jazz games. No bundled donations. No unspoken understanding that, in return for our access to them, or theirs to us, any quid pro quo is expected.

Yeah, I know. Suckers.

In the spirit of the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling, which said that supposedly uncoordinated campaign expenditures "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption," we should be able to stand back and watch while the people and groups that have an interest in being well treated in our pages and on our websites take up our cause. Uncoordinated, of course.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s campaign should buy billboards all over the state talking up print and online subscriptions to The Tribune. His opponents in the Peter Cooke camp should intermingle in their own campaign ads good words about how an intelligent electorate needs to read their local newspaper every day.

And why the heck aren’t Rio Tinto, EnergySolutions, Zions Bank and City Creek Center spending a ton in efforts — uncoordinated, mind you — to promote newspaper reading? Or providing people with cheap or free cell phones and iPads that come pre-loaded with Tribune apps? Not as a favor to us, you understand, but as a way of being good corporate citizens who understand the value of a healthy journalistic enterprise.

You know, the same way that corporate money goes, freely and often anonymously, into ads that promote or destroy this or that candidate, not in the expectation that the corporation will gain favors or perks, but simply out of their desire for good government.

Why not do that for newspapers?

Because it would be corrupting as all hell. And you’d all know it.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @debatestate



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