Can rich Americans save newspapers?

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.

Topic: CXO

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    Obviously you don't read or listen to the newspapers you are talking about. I'm sure none of them have ever exaggerated the truth or gone so far as to publish distasteful columns or ads.
    Please GET a life and instead of sitting in front of your computer talking bad about an electronic bulletin board why don't you go help the homeless people on the street. I don't see you published in a newspaper....OH MY GOODNESS that?s because your published on a free electronic website
    • A bit heavy handed, no?

      [i]Obviously you don't read or listen to the newspapers you are talking about. I'm sure none of them have ever exaggerated the truth or gone so far as to publish distasteful columns or ads.[/i]

      You're absolutely on track there. But by comparison to certain widely circulated magazines and the electronic news media, they remain the lesser of the two evils.

      [i]Please GET a life and instead of sitting in front of your computer talking bad about an electronic bulletin board...[/i]

      Wow, that's a bit of overkill for a simple blogged take on the current state of newspapers, no?
  • Aren't YOU driving out mainstream media?

    For your past two blogs you've been complaining about Craigslist and quite simply people in general running mainstream media out of business...but isn't that exactly what you are doing?

    It's the self-righteous who infuriate me more than anybody or anything else. You can't condemn people for what they do, that's God's job. You're welcome to push your views on other people, but that will only make them resent you. Present flawed arguments, and have them punched full of holes. It only makes you look like a fool.

    Craigslist steals nothing from newspapers, Craigslist is the world's largest bulletin board, and nothing else. Ever live in a dorm room? They don't charge you to put up a flyer, so why should Craigslist? The ads that are "stolen" from newspapers, would have been shouts unanswered. You can spend 80$ to get a 1"x2" blip in a newspaper for a week, or you can get an entire page for free? THAT is flawed economics, Keynesian or otherwise.
  • Maybe

    Wouldn't be the first time a rich person has purchased a business that he/she thought important to keep going, rather than because it was seen to be particularly profitable. Seems to happen most often with professional sports franchises, but it sometimes happens to other sorts of businesses as well. And yes, non-profit organizations (particularly religious ones) sometimes own news outlets. Sometimes, they even do a better job of running them because they're more interested in putting out a quality product than they are in profit (as long as they break even). In short, there is ample precedent for less profitable institutions to be kept alive by either philanthropy or (horrors!) volunteer work.

    Don't think I want government-owned newspapers. Makes it much too easy for politicians to sweep embarrassing stories under the rug (and if you've read very many of my posts, you'll quickly discern that I'm no libertarian).
    John L. Ries
  • As Far As I Am Concerned

    Newspapers decided against objectivity decades ago. They are reaping their rewards now. Classifieds are only part of the problem. Mostly, it is their own incompetence. Let them die, they will not be missed.
  • Noticed what happened to Tribune since...

    ... you wrote this Comment? A Mr. Zell has agreed to "save' the company by buying part of it with the employees' money and $350 million of his own. This gives him a seat on the Board and a veto over significant decisions. The employees gain the chance to hope there will be money for pensions.

    The problem is not the profitability of newspapers, though the loss of interest in current events and reduced attention spans (and also electronic alternatives) have reduced circulation.

    The problem is the arbitrary demands for specific $ amounts of profit by Wall Street. Not investors who supply the money to buy stocks, but those advisors and managers whose attitudes and opinions determine stock price.

    If newspaper and other media companies could continue to pay their CEO's large bonuses as a result of huge profits, the newspaper business would not be in trouble today. But because stock prices are held down, the CEOs can be dissatisfied, and the businesses must therefore be damaged, either in their ownership or their functions.

    You're looking at the results of decisions made by a few individuals, and not the market. Which continues to enjoy newspapers over muffins, despite the ink.
    Anton Philidor
  • What is a cultural Keynesist?

    Is this just another way of saying you favor using the government to force your beliefs on society?

    Newspapers are dying and they deserve to be put out to pasture. True, it is sad that Americans dont read as much as they should. But newspapers are a waste of resources. The internet is a much better source for news and opinions.
    • Keynes

      No economy can function properly without being in some way stimulated by government spending (to provide a very crude summary of Keynes's position).

      This is as true of the US (where the stimulation comes largely through military spending) as of anywhere else.

      As that noted socialist Richard Nixon once observed "we are all Keynsians now".
  • Not really

    While newspapers restrict themselves to the opinions of the rich, the middle class, to say nothing of the poor, are likely to igmore them.
  • Can dumb Americans save newspapers?

    This is the dumbest article I've seen in weeks. Newspaper is wastepaper, hardly a social necessity. Why do you think they are advertising so much?