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There Is No Right to Read a Newspaper

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The newspaper industry has been waning over the past few decades. Dozens of newspapers have folded since the advent of the Internet. According to the Pew Research Center, local newspaper circulation has declined by 27 percent over the last fifteen years and the number of statehouse reporters has fallen by nearly 40 percent.

The latest victim is the New York Daily News, a venerable tabloid that is known for its provocative front pages and that has won 11 Pulitzer Prizes throughout its 99 years of existence. Most recently, the paper shared a Pulitzer with ProPublica “for its exposure of how the New York Police Department used an obscure civil enforcement law to evict hundreds of poor people from their homes without their being able to challenge the move first.”

Like many American newspapers, the New York Daily News had been losing money for years as its circulation plummeted even more than that of its chief rivals — the New York Post and the New York Times. It was brought out from bankruptcy in 1993. Chicago-based Tronc (formerly known as Tribune Publishing Company), the newspaper chain that owns the Chicago Tribune and papers in Baltimore, Hartford, and Orlando, among others, purchased the paper last year from billionaire media and real-estate mogul Mort Zuckerman for $1 and the assumption of operational and pension liabilities.

But late last month, Tronc announced a fundamental restructuring of the New York Daily News:

To capture the opportunities ahead and address the significant financial challenges we have faced for years, we are fundamentally restructuring the Daily News. We are reducing today the size of the editorial team by approximately 50 percent and re-focusing much of our talent on breaking news — especially in areas of crime, civil justice and public responsibility. We know our readers look to us for a unique point of view, and we believe these topics offer our best opportunity to differentiate our reporting. We will, of course, continue to cover local news, sports and other events, but our approach will evolve as we adapt to our current environment.

The layoffs included the paper’s editor, Jim Rich, who tweeted, “If you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you.”

NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik expressed similar thoughts on NPR’s Morning Edition: “The move now to gut the Daily News’s newsroom will be a blow to local watchdog journalism in the nation’s largest city.” “I think you’re going to see a lot less of the kinds of coverage exposing wrongs by city officials, by major developers, by police officers,” he added later that day on NPR’s All Things Considered. Folkenflik believes that the staff cuts at the New York Daily News serve “a big blow to local watchdog journalism in New York” that is “also reflective of local journalism being cut across America.” The All Things Considered host, Audie Cornish, said in the introduction to her interview with Folkenflik, “There’s a conversation growing about where Americans will learn about what’s happening in their communities, a fear that local news is under attack. This comes after the New York Daily News, a punchy tabloid, was sucker-punched by Tronc.”

But it’s not just daily newspapers. Alternative weeklies across the country have shut down, moved to online only, slashed salaries, or transitioned to using unpaid contributors.

The decline and refocusing of daily and weekly newspapers has some people concerned that local news, sports, scandals, police overreach, and politician malfeasance will go unreported. In a 2011 report, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concluded that “the independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism … is in some cases at risk at the local level.”

All of that may be true, but there is no right to read a newspaper. There is no right to find all of the local news, weather, and sports that you want in your local newspaper. There is, in fact, no right to have available a local newspaper at all.

And of course, it’s not just newspapers.

“All over the western world banks are shutting down cash machines and branches” and “are trying to push you into using their digital payments and digital banking infrastructure,” laments a writer in the Guardian. True, one aim of the banks is “to cut costs in order to boost profits.” Replacing tellers with “self-service apps allows the senior managers of financial institutions to directly control and monitor interactions with customers.” But when banks say that they are shutting down local branches and cash machines because “customers are turning to digital” and they are merely “responding to changing customer preferences,” they are really just making it harder for people to use those services in an attempt to “nudge” users toward digital services “for their own benefit.” Customers are more likely “to ‘choose’ a digital option if the banks deliberately make it harder” to choose “a non-digital option.” Payments companies such as Visa and Mastercard are complicit in the move to eliminate cash because they “want to increase the volume of digital payments services they sell.”

Supermarkets, the writer goes on to explain, do the same thing when they “replace checkout staff with self-service machines to cut costs.” To achieve their underlying agenda, supermarkets have to convince their customers that this is in their best interests. They do that by initially presenting “self-checkout as a convenient alternative.” “When some people then use that alternative, the supermarket can cite that as evidence of a change in customer behaviour, which they then use to justify a reduction in checkout employees.” The result is that customers are more likely to use self-checkout machines, since it is “more inconvenient to use the checkout staff.” That is how supermarkets “nudge” people toward self-service.

In a free society, you don’t have the right to read what you want in a local newspaper, have an ATM or bank branch located near your house, or have a cashier ring up your groceries at a supermarket.

In a free society, you have the right to be free from acts of fraud, coercion, aggression, or violence committed by newspapers, banks, and supermarkets. But being inconvenienced or “nudged” is none of those things.

In a free society, if you don’t like what you read in a local newspaper, how far you have to travel to get cash out of an ATM or bank, or having to scan your own groceries, you can boycott the newspaper, bank, or supermarket and use other newspapers, banks, or supermarkets, persuade the newspaper, bank, or supermarket to change its ways, or you can start (alone or in conjunction with others) your own newspaper, bank, or supermarket and operate it as you see fit.

In a free society, you have the right to have your personal and property rights respected by newspapers, banks, and supermarkets.

In a free society, you don’t have the right to use the power of government to force newspapers to stay in business or print more local news, force banks to keep ATMs or bank branches open in your community, or force supermarkets to locate in your community or limit the number of self-checkout machines they provide.

In a free society, the same principles apply to a myriad of other things. There is no right to have a particular job, or live in a particular apartment, house, or neighborhood; be allowed on someone else’s property, or do or say what you want on someone else’s property; receive a loan or a particular rate of interest; be served at a restaurant, bar, or store; or join a particular club, group, or organization. There is no right to use the power of government to prevent relocations, mergers, acquisitions, plant closings, automation, store closings, layoffs, or acts of discrimination. But in a free society there are also no government barriers to entry that hinder or prohibit entrepreneurs or established businesses from offering goods and services for sale on the free market.

The bottom line is that in a free society, there is no right to have a platform, a microphone, or a soapbox — except on your own property. There is no right to have an audience, be recognized, or taken seriously. No one is entitled to 15 minutes of fame. There is no right to not be disappointed, inconvenienced, or discriminated against. A free society means that people and businesses can be free to ignore you and your preferences. A free society doesn’t mean that you always get what you what when you want it at the price you want to pay for it. Libertarians distinguish between positive and negative rights. A positive right implies that a person must be given or guaranteed something: health care, affordable housing, free education, a job, a living wage, et cetera. A negative right only requires others to abstain from interfering with your actions as long as they are done peacefully and don’t violate the personal or property rights of others.

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