Media Blog

Can Billionaire Buyers Save Newspapers?

Vanity Fair’s Michael Wolff explores the phenomenon of the newspaper industry’s sudden spate of billionaire suitors, and gets off a couple of classic lines like this one:

In this public-utility age of newspapers, the institutional blandness which resulted—reporters themselves, once clever and disreputable, became something like public-service employees, seeing themselves with the beleaguered virtue of schoolteachers—helped turn newspapers into a medium for old people (newspapers are for people who remember newspapers).

And while I agree with Wolff’s take on the industry, I don’t think journalists dread the prospect of working for a billionaire owner nearly as much as Wolff thinks they do:

This leaves the billionaire option. In essence, news, or publicity, that true currency of our time, is worth more to newsmakers—and every billionaire is a newsmaker who associates with other newsmakers—than to investors (and perhaps even to news consumers). So at the end of the day theirs will be the winning bid. 
For journalists, who as the industry has contracted have become ever more ethically self-righteous, this is the ultimate nightmare scenario (save only for going out of business itself). To be owned and operated by somebody who has juice in the game—who might get value out of what the paper writes or whom it writes about and how—contradicts the whole point of contemporary journalism.

I think that’s only true of pro-business billionaires like former GE chief Jack Welch, who is reported to be interested in buying the Boston Globe. That prospect must have the lefties at the Globe positively terrified.
On the other hand, what about liberal billionaires like David Geffen, who is mulling the purchase of the LA Times and who recently told the Wall Street Journal, “I’m not interested in buying things simply to make money. I’m interested in doing something that’s going to be valuable for the community, where I can make a difference… I would devote my resources to building a first-class national newspaper.”
A liberal billionaire who professes not to be interested in making money, who says he wants to “devote [his] resources” to “mak[ing] a difference” in the community? It seems intuitive that journalists who have liberal political leanings and vote Democrat – most journalists, that is – would love to have an owner like that.

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