Thursday, October 22, 2009

Newspapers and Vice

Maureen Dowd has some intriguing ideas for how to revive the newspaper business in yesterday's column. Taking a look back at the history of print journalism in this country, she notes that newspapers were not exactly holy places - they reeked of alcohol and gambling, and sex in the office was not exactly unknown. Today, in our more enlightened times, we do not tolerate such things. But, Ms. Dowd opines, what if we allowed newspapers to take bets on sporting events? Lots of papers are flirting with money-making enterprises that were traditionally associated with the lesser emotions. The NY Times, our NY Times columnist points out, has a wine club, and Conde Nast has a dating site. Just about every newspaper in the country covers sports. And every one of those newspapers - from the smallest hometown rag in Montana, to the Times itself - has readers who bet on sports.

What she doesn't mention is that there is a whole category of newspapers who advertise much worse things than gambling. "Alternative" weeklies have ads for massage parlors and escorts. That's basically legalized prostitution. Here in LA, they also have ads for marijuana "clinics," where you can go to buy pot if your doctor prescribes it. Of course, it's absurdly easy to find a "doctor" who can prescribe that for you. And some of those newspapers do real investigative journalism. The LA Weekly recently won a Pulitzer. OK, it was for their restaurant columnist, but still, it's a good paper. All we are doing by prohibiting gambling on sports is driving it underground. It happens all the time. Every day. We also drive it offshore, to Websites based in Caribbean islands, where it cannot be taxed by US governments. I'm not advocating for massage parlors and drug clinics. But as long as they are there, and some papers are making money off of them, why don't we let more respectable newspapers engage in businesses in which no one gets hurt?

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