* Holder says enforcement should conform to reality
* Some newspapers already have limited antitrust immunity
By Randall Mikkelsen
WASHINGTON, March 18 U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder said on Wednesday preserving a healthy newspaper
industry was important and he was open to adjusting antitrust
policy if it could help.
"I'd like to think 20, 30, 40 years from now people will
still be reading the newspaper," Holder told reporters.
He was responding to a call by House of Representatives
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging the Justice Department to give
newspapers more leeway to merge or combine operations.
The industry is reeling from declining circulation,
economic recession and a shift in advertising and reader
attention to online media. Venerable newspapers have closed or
-- such as the Hearst Corp's Seattle Post-Intelligencer this
week -- gone to Internet-only editions with reduced staff.
"I think it's important for this nation to maintain a
healthy newspaper industry. So to the extent that we have to
look at our enforcement policies and conform them to the
realities that that industry faces, that's something that I'm
going to be willing to do," Holder said.
Some struggling newspapers in multiple-newspaper cities
have limited antitrust immunity under the 1970 Newspaper
Preservation Act, allowing them to combine business activities
while maintaining separate news operations.
Pelosi, a Democrat whose California district is served by
Hearst's The San Francisco Chronicle, urged Holder to take a
broad view of newspaper competitors under antitrust law and
include "electronic and digital" outlets.
Such a view could make it easier for a paper such as the
Chronicle to merge non-news operations with a company such as
the Bay Area News Group, which owns papers in nearby San Jose
Newspaper defenders say online news outlets lack the
resources and ambition of newspapers. "Our newspapers and news
media must be able to engage in investigative journalism and to
analyze significant issues, so citizens are informed of public
policy issues and public officials are held accountable,"
Pelosi said in her letter to Holder.
Holder said he had not yet seen Pelosi's letter. He said he
is a regular consumer of online news "on my computer and iPhone
and all that."
"But I think that we need to have a healthy, vibrant
newspaper industry, and I don't mean just online."
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Eric