Can rich Americans save newspapers?

Summary:So what's the solution to the newspaper crisis? Should rich people own American newspapers? Or should they be government owned?

Okay. So Craigslist is shafting newspapers with its free sex ads. But is there anything we can actually do to save these wonderfully civilizing and civilized institutions? Free market digital fundamentalists will, of course, argue that newspapers are inevitable roadkill on route to their self-publishing utopia. But, for the rest of us analog Americans who rely on the existential comfort of holding a physical newspaper over our muffins in the morning, the future isn't quite so rosy. 

As a cultural and ethical Keynesian, my preference would be for the government to actively invest in newspapers as well as journalism schools. But I suspect that the noisome libertarian lobby on both the left and right wouldn't stand for something as civilized as this. So here's an interesting thought from Rosanlo (man or woman? -- or perhaps an amalgam), who posted this comment in response to my "Free Sex on Craigslist" column:

The ultimate savior could be rich Americans, the ranks of whom are increasing as we speak. Some of these people have seen it fit to give back by acquiriing the local media and subsiizing it and leaving its management alone, so the media can continue to do its function. 

He/she makes an intriguing point. Newspapers should be seen in the same non-profit category as libraries, parks, museums, opera houses, schools, sidewalks, broadcasting networks and public lavatories. They are public utilities which add to the quality of civic life. But if the state is too myopic or shrivelled or reactionary to actively improve the quality of life of its citizens, then we may have to fall back on the next best thing -- rich Americans. This is already happening in Los Angeles where Hollywood mogul David Geffen and real-estate baron Sam Zell are rumored to be in informal negotiation with the Tribune company to acquire the LA Times. The problem, of course, is that rich people often privatize and personalize the public good, transforming it into an extension of their own inflated egos. I dread to think what would happen if Donald Trump bought the New York Times or Steve Jobs got his iHands on the San Jose iMerc. Actually, there's no need to use one's imagination here -- look at what Rupert Murdoch has done with the New York Post or the London Times and then try to convince me that rich American-Australians can save newspapers.

The ultimate irony, of course, would be for one of the Bay Area newspapers to be acquired by Craigslist (who would then, no doubt, give away the entire paper for free). Alternatively, a strategically savvy newspaper publisher could acquire Craig Newmark and his destructive electronic bulletin board and then start charging people for their advertisements. This would save newspapers from the mercurial clutches of rich Americans. And we poor Americans could go back to enjoying our muffins in the morning.

Topics: CXO

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