If newspapers are dying, why are billionaires buying?
The obituary writers have been working overtime ever since the digital era forced print publications to rethink their business models.
Most major newspapers no longer give their online content away for free. Consumers get a certain number of views per month. After that, they have to pay.
However, if the print model is dead, why do people with megabucks still consider it a good investment?
Take Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com mogul, for example. He snapped up the Washington Post for $250 million in 2013.
Bezos insists he won’t try to interfere with editorial content, and it’s too early to say whether he’ll live up to that promise. But he’s not the only sugar daddy interested in newspapers.
John Henry, the relatively new owner of the Boston Red Sox, saved the Boston Globe for a mere $70 million.
Pierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of eBay, has promised $50 million to a group called First Look Media, which has in its stable investigative journalist and Oscar-nominated documentarian Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who has joined forces with ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden to leak some of the most compelling classified documents ever to see the light of day.
When it appeared that the Manchester Guardian and the Manchester Evening News would go under in Great Britain after the death of its owner, the heir, John Scott, moved to reformulate a trust fund. Today, the Scott Trust Limited owns the Guardian Media Group and runs it the way the original owner, C.P. Scott, envisioned, without corporate control.
In 2012, newspaper advertising revenues plunged to $20 billion from $65 billion in 2000.
So, again I say, if newspapers are dying, why are billionaires buying?
Well, it appears that, if you have enough money, you can fund your own personal agenda.
Omidyar, for example, has stated that he is concerned about the surveillance society that we have become, a place where privacy has been reduced to a four-letter word.
Journalist-turned-hedge-fund-manager Neil Barsky, who will operate the Marshall Project on a mere $5 million budget when it debuts later this year, will focus on criminal justice reform.
This doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs have left cyberspace. The Fiscal Times, a website that covers the financial world, is owned by Pete Peterson, an investment banker and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce who happens to be married to Joan Ganz Cooney, the creator of “Sesame Street.” Peterson’s pet peeve is inattention to national debt reduction.
This is nothing new, of course. The newspaper magnates of yesteryear had their causes that they trumpeted on their editorial pages. Ralph McGill’s devotion to civil rights helped make the Atlanta Constitution one of the finest newspapers in the country.
Remember what Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat said in “All the President’s Men?” He said, “Follow the money.”
The Washington Post’s former Watergate sleuths, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, say the real Deep Throat never said that. Nonetheless, its meaning rings true.