Writings and observations

The fall audited circulation numbers for newspapers nationally are out, and they are . . . awful.

From a year ago to this fall, paid circulation for a whole bunch of newspapers around the country is down by more than 10% – that’s more the norm than the exception. (The average is around 7%.) What has been the largest paper in the Northwest, the Oregonian, is part of that, down 12.1% to 249,163. In the spring of 2007, it was 319,625.

(This happens to come on the same day the Oregonian names a new publisherChris Anderson of the Orange County, California, Register, though he does have background in several Northwest newspapers.)

The Oregonian is now listed at 22 among the nation’s newspapers, while the Seattle Times is now 20 – its numbers having grown after the collapse of the print Post-Intelligencer. But not to all that much: 263,588 is well short of where the two papers were a year ago.

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The current round – getting much closer to the end game – on congressional health care action, puts this as a final package headed toward Senate vote: Inclusion of a public health insurance options, with “opt out,” meaning the included ability of individual states to decide not to participate.

While the talk swirls about the “opt-out” option, which has been notable in discussion for some weeks but now seems a solid part of the Senate package, the question for this space becomes: What of the Northwest states? What will Washington, Oregon and Idaho choose to do?

In the case of Washington and Oregon, the answer seems obvious. Since no further action would be needed (if the current package becomes law) to participate in a public option, and since both states are run by people who as a whole likely back the public option, that would seem to be that. These two will be “public option states.”

The question mark will be Idaho. Many of Idaho’s top elected officials are highly skeptical, to put it minimally, of the public option. Of the 50 states, Idaho probably would be among the half-dozen or so where opposition or criticism of the option would be greatest. A conservative Republican Idaho elected official (as most of them are) ordinarily would have to reverse stance heavily to go along with the public option.

And yet, what if they did not? If the program for whatever reason crashes and burns nationally, that would be one thing – it might be withdrawn or scaled back in the larger picture on its own. But suppose it functions somewhere close to as-intended? Imagine the scene of Idaho elected officials defending their refusal to allow Idaho citizens to obtain affordable health insurance, when they (and the businesses they run or are employed by) could do that by moving across the border? The “opt-in” option could put them in quite a bind, unless they went along with the thing described in so many conservative circles as a chamber of horrors.

It may even be so intended.

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