Newspapers: These are a few of my favorite playthings

January 22, 2009

The story of rich billionaires buying troubled newspapers is one that has been told before, but never with headlines that practically nod and wink at you like this one from the Financial Times:

Playthings for rich men could be unsafe toys

Tell us about it!

The story by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson explores the ups and downs of selling troubled, publicly traded newspaper companies to impossibly rich buyers. As he says, would-be press barons might find to their dismay that the old business model is dying. That means taking over a paper could be a reputation killer, not an enhancer.

The most interesting but sad item in the story is this tidbit:

The $5.6bn Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp paid in 2007 for Dow Jones, owner of the Wall Street Journal and several local papers, would now be sufficient to buy Gannett, the New York Times, McClatchy, Media General, Belo and Lee Enterprises, even at twice their current share prices.

Newspapers: We will not be undersold! There’s the real headline.

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That a wealthy individual could buy up handfuls of the remaining papers now instead of “just” the Wall Street Journal is not the sad thing. The sad thing is that the papers have been gutted and reworked to serve the needs of owners, shareholders and advertisers, and yet even as this occurs, real news consumers see dwindling value to them and so continue to flee.

Should one teach a child to read a newspaper today? Where is the paper I read when I was four years old on a planet stitching itself together again after World War II? I was curious about the maps in the paper. Why was France in one piece but Germany divided? Did our North and South Dakota used to be just Dakota?? Was there ever a president of Europe? Today the maps in the paper are about traffic jams, domestic dustups and where the new Walmarts is or is not going to go. These are not maps that will ignite a four-year-old’s curiosity about the world we live in.

The internet as substitute for newspaper? Right. We are not born news editors any more than we are born liking crunchy broccoli better than potato chips. The buttons for “Most Popular” and “Most Emailed” and so forth are the fast food of the mind. So we let the kid find out Paris is a chick, not a city in a state that helped the USA win its freedom from England. So is formed another future adult doomed to despair while digging for the bottom of the bottomless pit of least common denominator entertainment. England and France are on their own and the USA is proudly addicted to, uh, Freedom Fries…?

If I had not become so fond of a good newspaper, I could find the cost-cutting and share-resources / merge-ownership process comical, much like watching some cartoon critter deciding to ingest its own tail. There is not much left to eat now, is there? My neighbor’s cat used to leave the paws of young rabbits on the back stoop after feasting on everything else in decidedly uncartoonish fashion. That’s what profit seeking has done to the newspaper “business,” and the rabbit paws are what’s left for the wealthy businessmen who collect them.

Posted by Liz R | Report as abusive