CRS sizes up the Future of Newspapers

Want to see what Congress is reading on the fate of the newspaper industry?

Try Congressional Research Service report R40700: “The U.S. Newspaper Industry in Transition.”

Alas, by law you don’t have a right to get a copy of this or any other CRS report, which are officially only produced for the use of members of Congress. In large part, that’s why CRS reports topped a March 2009 list of the 10 “Most Wanted Federal Documents” assembled by the Center for Democracy and Technology and

While the reports are frequently leaked, and many congressional offices routinely provide copies of reports upon constituent request, the list’s authors wrote that “CRS reports should be made available through an official government website without members of the public having to work to track them down on their own time.” For now, the best place to find CRS reports is OpenCRS, a CDT administrated site that collects the reports in a searchable database.

In the case of R40700, newspaper industry watchers are in luck: the Federation of American Scientists, a regular obtainer of CRS reports, has made the study available for download as a .pdf.

The report opens more or less as you’d expect: “The U.S. newspaper industry is suffering through what could be its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” From there it goes on to lay out the details of the collapse, soberly lays out cases for and against government intervention to ease the industry’s collapse, all along the way drawing heavily from ideas presented at the Senate’s May 6 ”Future of News” hearing.

As with most CRS reports, this is a thorough state of play summary, written through the lens of what Congress might do to legislate in the arena, should they so choose. Maybe one day the public might no longer have to rely on back channel access to CRS reports, and be able to more officially benefit from the work their tax dollars fund.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.