It was widely reported last week that the Ford Foundation has given The Washington Post a $500,000 grant to hire four extra reporters for a year “to work on special projects related to money, politics and government,” according to a staff memo issued by the Post’s top editors. This followed a May announcement that the foundation had given a million dollars to the Los Angeles Times to expand coverage in areas ranging from local immigrant communities to the state prison system.
These reporting initiatives are worthy endeavors aimed at fortifying great newspapers whose profits have been savaged by the rise of the Internet. However, The Washington Post Co (though not the newspaper) is still quite profitable. The company reported operating income of $77.8 million in the first half of this year. In fact, the Post Co division that owns a group of local television stations is enjoying boom-time revenue this year because of the flood of 2012 political advertising; operating income in that unit increased 43 percent in the first half of this year over last year.
The Post Co also owns the Kaplan education business, and although Kaplan’s for-profit universities are suffering because of a government crackdown on abuses related to marketing and student loan commitments, its test preparation division has shown improved results.
So why didn’t the grant givers at Ford tell the Post to get its parent company to boost its SAT or LSAT coaching fees by 50 cents or a dollar if it needed that $500,000 so badly? Or chop the bonuses of senior executives a bit? Or siphon off ad revenue from those booming television outlets (whose shows include The Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills), or dip into the profits its cable-television systems get from people buying adult movies?
The Tribune Co, which owns the Los Angeles Times, has been in bankruptcy, but that’s only because the current financial-investor owners took on a crushing debt burden to overpay the prior owners of the company’s media properties. The Los Angeles Times itself is still profitable, as are its other divisions, including, for example, the broadcast division that owns local television stations such as WPIX in New York, which features the Jerry Springer Show at 11 a.m. every weekday.