Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Newspapers and Public Ownerships (Redux)

This item in the New York Observer, about impending mass firings at the New York Times, needs to be read in conjunction with this article in Editor & Publisher and this piece I wrote for Salon some months ago.

The problem, which was driven home at a Columbia University-sponsored conference by Frank A. Blethen, president of The Seattle Times Company, is that newspapers and shareholders do not mix.

In the discussion. . . Blethen argued that the public ownership has proven a failure because shareholders want profits at the cost of quality, in many cases. "Wall Street can’t have it two ways," Blethen told the breakfast crowd of about 60 at Manhattan's Century Club. "Wall Street has spent 30 years milking the newspaper industry. The trade-off of that was lack of investment and lack of innovation."

He later added, "The notion of investor-owned, that is mutually exclusive with public purpose….If you live in a community, you are far more inclined to work to run your newspaper with some element of public good. I'd rather have a crummy paper owned locally than a supposedly good paper owned in absentia."
That point has been proven time and again, and is being proved yet again at the Times, even though it is owned locally and not by an absentee owner.

© 2008 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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