The courts regard Corporations as “people.” But they behave more like vultures.
How corporations conduct business goes far beyond their first amendment rights to donate obscene amounts of money to politicians. As “people” shouldn’t they be held accountable for behavior that is indifferent to the best interests of their customers?
Case in point is the recent acquisition of the Chicago Tribune by Alden Global Capital. Alden is in the business of making money, not journalism. It’s a multibillion-dollar hedge fund that buys struggling newspapers (which basically means every newspaper), sells off their assets and cuts salaries and staff like a slicing machine at the deli.
Pleas of Tribune columnists searching for a buyer other than Alden were prescient. They knew what happened to the popular tabloid New York Daily News, once the largest circulation paper in America. Not only was half the newsroom staff fired, the newsroom itself was eliminated, the offices leased out to other businesses!
We don’t hear about these abuses because there are precious few independent sources that have a circulation beyond the hard core of news junkies concerned about losing what may well be the most important pillar in the foundation of a vibrant democracy, a free press.
With the contentious sale a done deal, a reader would have to stretch a bit to call the Chicago Tribune a local paper. You’re not going to get determined, expose journalism with a Chicago accent when the paper is put together with homogenized, bureau-originated press releases that run simultaneously in two hundred papers including dailies in Baltimore, Boston, Boulder, Denver, Hartford, Norfolk, Orange County, Orlando, San Jose, St. Paul and now, Chicago. Hold off on your eye-rolling dismay, the Gannett conglomerate now owns more than one thousand (!) papers across the country. Continue to suppress your gasp of consternation, irony of irony, the Gannett papers, which includes USA Today, are owned by the SoftBank Group headquartered in Japan!
The endgame: our local news is now in the hands of a hedge fund manager who lives in Long Island, NY.
Thankfully, all is not lost! There are local journalists determined to report and distribute the news that its citizens must have access to if Chicago is to remain a vital, diverse American city. I don’t have the energy, but maybe someone from the ChicagoNow community will rise to the challenge. A list of resources that can help make that happen is below.
And kudos to the Chicago Independent Media Alliance, a group of more than forty local news sources such as City Bureau, The Reader, Gazette Chicago and La Raza among other neighborhood publications. Many of them have old school reporters, digging around for the stories that otherwise would never have been told.
I dropped my subscription to the Alden Global Capital Tribune because they are a soulless nemesis of local newspapers. Now I read the Chicago Sun Times; scan it more accurately (as a paper they are farther away from the New York Times than the crow flies). But I’m buying into their slogan, “The hardest working paper in America,” and appreciating their coverage of the local news, particularly the craziness at City Hall. Studying their masthead gives me the sense that the ownership is motivated by an underdog’s concern for community benefit as well as financial return.
Of course I am aware that the Tribune hosts the ChicagoNow blog. Consequently if this is my last post on the site, you can continue reading my pieces at www.howardenglander.com.
Thanks to Jim Hightower, former Texas Land Commissioner and publisher of the monthly “Hightower Lowdown” for pointing me to the statistics and accounts of the demise of the newspaper industry. The newsletter lists several helpful resources for fighting back.
- www.localnewslab.org (a project of the Democracy Fund) reporting on the new experiments in journalism and providing resources for anyone who wants to get started.
- www.lionpublishers.com (Local Independent Online News) – 275 members; provides resources and community to independent news entrepreneurs.
- www.inn.org (The Institute for Nonprofit News) – 300 independent news organizations dedicated to the radical proposition that “everyone deserves access to trustworthy sources of news.
- And Ralph Nader, who has launched a website, “Reporters Alert,” a digital publication pointing out topics deserving of media coverage.