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Quick Hits: France Bails Out Newspapers


Brief scrutiny of today's headlines.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the government will offer 18-year-olds a free copy of the daily newspaper of their choice.

Great. But will the kids read it?

Like their American counterparts, circulation of French newspapers is crashing. But unlike the US – at least so far – Sarkozy proposes to do what France does best: Subsidize sclerotic industries. Oh wait - what about General Motors (GM), Chrysler and all those banks?

The grand plan emerged after a high-level government pow-wow on the future of the French newspaper industry. The newspapers will eat the cost of the free copies and the government will cover the cost of delivering them to kids.

Declining newspaper circulation is a threat to French democracy, the usual café sages say.

Maybe. But might one ask how a newspaper that receives a handout from the government can objectively cover, let alone criticize, the source of the largesse?

Government subsidized media - now that's a threat to the free flow of information, eh?

But the French, being French, see the world differently.

"The habit of reading the press takes hold at a very young age," Sarkozy says.

True enough - and those of a certain age love the look, feel and even the smell of a newspaper. But digital-age kids are different and will never read newspapers in significant numbers - even if they get a free copy compliments of Uncle Sarkokzy.

The upside: In the unlikely event the free paper gambit takes off, French newspapers could claim higher circulation and advertisers could be charged for readers they don't want to reach and who generally ignore their ads anyway.

It's all so very French... And maybe American, too.
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