The Right Coast

February 11, 2006
 
How (Not) To Save the Newspapers
By Maimon Schwarzschild

A left-wing group in Chicago has sued Craigslist, the online classified service, for allegedly printing discriminatory advertisements. The suit is "part of an emerging attempt by housing watchdogs nationally" to bind online classified sites to the complex anti-discrimination regulations that apply to print classifieds in newspapers -- regulations that differ from state to state and even from city to city. The regulations typically require print publishers to scrutinise the wording of each and every ad, which would be impossible in the decentralised online world. And national or global websites are obviously in no position to comply with mutually inconsistent local "equal opportunity" regulations and paperwork.

Craigslist and similar websites are an important drain on newspaper revenues, which are dropping, of course, for other reasons as well. Insofar as most newspapers are now symbiotic with the Democratic Party, any such drain is a threat to the political left in this country. (Even local newspapers that are owned by Republicans increasingly have leftish newsroom staffs; and they almost all print acres of even-more-leftish AP or New York Times news service wire copy.)

The Craigslist lawsuit is thus an early confirmation of a recent prediction by Brian Anderson in City Journal:
The rise of alternative media — political talk radio in the eighties, cable news in the nineties, and the blogosphere in the new millennium — has broken the liberal monopoly over news and opinion outlets. The Left understands acutely the implications of this revolution, blaming much of the Democratic Party’s current electoral trouble on the influence of the new media’s vigorous conservative voices. Instead of fighting back with ideas, however, today’s liberals quietly, relentlessly, and illiberally are working to smother this flourishing universe of political discourse under a tangle of campaign-finance and media regulations.
No doubt the adversaries of "new media" will try. But if this lawsuit is an example, it seems a pretty feeble one. The Craigslist suit is weak on the law. And even if a friendly judge (i.e. unfriendly to Craigslist) thinks otherwise, what is to stop Craigslist, now headquartered in San Francisco, from becoming headquartered in sunny Nassau, Bahamas; or anywhere else in the world?

If Craigslist goes offshore, how about lawsuits -- or criminal prosecutions -- against anyone who buys an ad?

Do you think that would be politically popular?