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Save the News-Journal: How Wall Street Is Plundering Newspaper Chains Like GateHouse

| December 4, 2018

The old editorial board room at the News-Journal, now defunct. (© FlaglerLive)

The old editorial board room at the News-Journal, now defunct. (© FlaglerLive)

By Jim Hightower

A two-panel cartoon I recently saw showed a character with a sign saying: “First they came for the reporters.” In the next panel, his sign says: “We don’t know what happened after that.”


It was, of course, a retort to Donald Trump’s campaign to demonize the news media as “the enemy of the people.” But when it comes to America’s once-proud newspapers, their worst enemy isn’t Trump — nor is it the rising cost of newsprint or the “free” digital news on websites.

Rather, the demise of the real news reporting by our city and regional papers is a product of their profiteering owners.

Not the families and companies that built and nurtured true journalism, but the new breed of fast-buck hucksters who’ve scooped up hundreds of America’s newspapers from the bargain bins of media sell-offs.

These hedge-fund scavengers know nothing about journalism and care less. They’re ruthless Wall Street profiteers out to grab big bucks fast.

They slash journalistic and production staff, void employee benefits, shrivel the paper’s size and news content, sell the presses and other assets, and triple the price of their inferior product — and then declare bankruptcy, shut down the paper, and auction off the bones before moving on to plunder another town’s paper.

By 2014, America’s two largest media chains — GateHouse [which owns the News-Journal] and Digital First — weren’t venerable publishers with any commitment to truth or civic responsibility. Instead, their managers believe that good journalism is measured by the personal profit they can squeeze from it.

As revealed last year in an American Prospect article, GateHouse executives demanded that its papers cut $27 million from their operating expenses. Thousands of newspaper employees suffered in large part because one employee — the hedge fund’s CEO — had extracted $54 million in personal pay from the conglomerate, including an $11 million bonus.

The core idea of the “civic commons” is that we are a self-governing people, capable of creating and sustaining a society based on common good. A noble aspiration!

other-wordsBut achieving it requires a basic level of community-wide communication — a reliable resource that digs out and shares truths so people know enough about what’s going on to be self-governing. This is the role Americans have long expected their local and regional newspapers to play — papers that are not merely in our communities, but of, by, and for them.

Of course, being profit-seeking entities, papers have commonly (and often infamously) fallen far short of their noble democratic purpose. Overall, though, a town’s daily (or, better yet, two or more dailies) makes for a more robust civic life by devoting journalistic resources to truth telling.

Local ownership matters, as some 1,500 of our towns have learned after Wall Street demigods have swept in without warning to seize their paper, gut its journalistic mission, and devour its assets.

For example, Digital First, a huge private-equity profiteer, snatched the St. Paul Pioneer Press and, demanding a ridiculous 25 percent profit margin from its purchase, stripped the newsroom staff from a high of 225 journalists to 25!

As the Prospect’s Robert Kuttner reported, these tyrannical private equity firms produce nothing but profits for faraway speculators.

He notes that the blandly named entities only exist “thanks to three loopholes in the law.” The first lets them operate in the dark; the second provides an unlimited tax deduction for the massive amounts of money they borrow to buy up newspapers; and the third allows them to profit by intentionally bankrupting the paper they take over.

Our right to a free press is meaningless if Wall Street thieves destroy our communities’ presses. The good news is that many enterprising people are devising ways to rescue their newspapers. For more information, go to dfmworkers.org.

Columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker.

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11 Responses for “Save the News-Journal: How Wall Street Is Plundering Newspaper Chains Like GateHouse”

  1. Resident says:

    I would never buy a News Journal paper if my life depended on it. This paper is so biased, misleading and liberal. The reporters are the worse in the business. I can learn more about my local news by being engaged and talking to friends and organizations. I tell everyone I know to never get that paper and warn them if they do to read between the lines.

  2. fredrick says:

    I have to laugh when “Journalists” complain about Trump demonizing them. If they would be a true journalist and report the news without their bias they would be considered journalists. Their reporting has become nothing but editorials and their antics (read Acosta) has brought the so called demonetization on themselves. Give me the facts, I can draw my own opinion and conclusion. Save your bias for the editorial page.
    As far as the news print and magazines going the way of the dinosaur, welcome to the 21st century, and in regards to people making money off of dismantling the news print industry, welcome to capitalism. Keep up or get out of the way.

  3. Rick G says:

    Hightower is spot on… We are allowing venture capitalists to take over our means of communication. Let’s all promote the 1st Amendment unabated by grossly profiting from the backs of labor.

  4. Ben. says:

    News Journal is very liberal. Just got tired of all of the Trump bashing. Sunday paper good for coupons and crossword puzzle. Overcharged for “special editions”. Actually there is nothing going on in Daytona anyway. Daytona is a beach with some motorcycles.

  5. Agkistrodon says:

    Many Papers have gone under due to editors constantly forcing their personal OPINIONS on others and into what THEY call news. Papers that report UNBIASED facts, still do well, though they are far and few to find.

  6. Richard says:

    American GREED at its finest! Here is a quote from the above article that should resonate with everyone.

    ” But when it comes to America’s once-proud newspapers, their worst enemy isn’t Trump — nor is it the rising cost of newsprint or the “free” digital news on websites. Rather, the demise of the real news reporting by our city and regional papers is a product of their profiteering owners.

    I’d bet CNN ranks #1 in this category whereas when Ted Turner owned the company it was a NEWS company.

  7. joe says:

    “Just got tired of all of the Trump bashing.”
    More likely, they were just reporting on him and his corruption and venality – it’s known as journalism.

  8. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Conservatives here complain that the News Journal is too “liberal”. For what…printing the news? Conservatives have slithered so far up Trump’s orange behind they cannot accept reality and judge every attempt to report reality as fake news.

    Oh, yeah, I also fear that unrestrained capitalism and corporate greed will lead to the demise of the free press.

  9. Sherry Epley says:

    I would give you odds that those who complain about any news outlet being too liberal are exclusive FOX watchers who care nothing for actual “FACTS”.

    For unvarnished news there is always the PBS News Hour or the Associated Press web site. . . but, then again you would continue to bump into credentialed FACTS instead of the usual conspiracy theories laced with fear and hate peddled by FOX. Go ahead it’s your poison!

  10. Alphonse Abonte says:

    Sad that a publication is facing this demise. Lets put the blame were it belongs. Technology and capitalism. Trump has been in office only a short time, to blame him is short sighted and filled with hate. Trump is the lefts answer to ALL their problems. Sad. The NJ plight is management driven. It is a business decision that effects a lot of good people.

  11. Lin says:

    Biased reporting, biased news sources such as the AP
    AND 16 credit card charges in 12 month period
    Explanation is charge for special supplement which I did not ask for nor do I read it — so they shortened the time between charges.
    Just got off the phone with them
    Check your credit card statements readers
    I’ll have to get coupons somewhere else

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