Sunday, October 17, 2021

Bad News

I recommend McKay Coppins' Atlantic article on the way Alden Global Capital is destroying local newspapers. If you can't get past the paywall, Cory Doctorow gives a thorough summary on his blog.

One of the MSNBC shows (I can't remember which one) did a good job of crystalizing a couple of points that I hadn't remembered from the story, since there are so many other outrages to distract you there:

  • More than a quarter of newspapers in the U.S. have gone out of business in the past 15 years. (Which is not related to Alden Capital.)
  • Half of the daily papers left are now controlled by financial firms like Alden.
  • Alden owns more than 200 newspapers.
  • Donald Trump did best in counties with limited access to local news. (The loss of local news actually costs taxpayers money, too, as I've mentioned before.)

While the stories of the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun dominate Coppins' article, our local angle on the destructive Alden juggernaut is their liquidation of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. The details about selling off historic buildings and making single reporters cover more and more beats were all too familiar, as was the bit about jacking up the subscription rate as the paper gets thinner and thinner. 

I've also heard that you can't cancel your subscription to the Pioneer Press. That is, you can say you want to stop the automatic payment you've set up (which is required now for home delivery), but it won't stop. I haven't tested this rumor yet because until I read the Atlantic article, I've been hanging on as a subscriber to support the remaining reporters. 

But now that I know even more clearly than I already did that my money is going into the pockets of such evil people, even if a tiny amount of it also supports a few good people... I'm not sure it's worth it. They're playing us for fools.

Reading this and looking back over these summary numbers made me think of what the solution could be or could have been. Why is one company allowed to own so many newspapers? Gannett is no great shakes either, though compared to Alden it's fine. In the days of the Fairness Doctrine, television station ownership was limited to a very small number of markets, though that never applied to newspapers because of First Amendment case law. 

It seems to me that the idea of the First Amendment applying to ownership is a form of money equaling speech, and I do not agree with that. I think there must be a way to restrict ownership concentration without infringing on true press freedom. That freedom does not require the freedom of one person or one company to own the mechanisms of the press everywhere. 

No comments: