Legacy media is in trouble. Over the last ten years, ad revenue abandoned newspapers and magazines. Hedge funds and private equity firms bought up newspapers and, with their unrelenting focus on the bottom line, cut newsroom staff even further. Many newspapers found they could no longer cover their communities. Despite some hopeful push-back from journalists themselves (at theDenver Post journalists are fighting backagainst their owners), the future is not bright. Print revenue is expected to continue to decline with years of more losses.
So, if the business is broken, why are so many savvy billionaires buying up legacy media outlets? For details, click on the chart above and, by the way, missing from that chart is Pierre Omidyar (The Intercept) and non-tech billionaires Warren Buffet (Buffalo News/Omaha World-Herald, Business Wire, etc), Philip Anschutz (Weekly Standard, Oklahoman, Colorado Springs Gazette), Mort Zuckerman (US News & World Report), and Glen Taylor (Minnesota Star-Tribune).
What’s their motivation? Ego? Access to power and influence? A sincere desire to preserve and protect the fourth estate, so essential to democracy? For some fascinating insight, check out this episode of the podcast “If Then,” from Slate starting at about 16:20. (Even Slate was initially owned by Microsoft.)
Here are some interesting insights fromSlate’s conversation with Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for the Washington Post.
- Bezos, the Amazon founder, has been good for the Post, pouring money and business acumen into what was a financially troubled newspaper.
- Though it’s generally agreed that Bezos keeps his hands off the newsroom, it’s not clear whether other billionaire owners will follow suit. (Even with Bezos, there are questions about a chilling effect on Post business journalists covering Amazon compared to a major investigation by Post rivalThe New York Times.)
- Throughout history, wealthy people have owned media companies but they typically came from a variety of industries. What difference will it make that so many of these new owners come from tech?
- With no clear path to profitability, how long will owners put up with continued losses? Especially in the case of a recession which could “force a crisis.”
As you know, Round Earth is not a media outlet. We produce important under-reported stories for media outlets including those that are recently owned by billionaires. It is in our interest — and the interest of democracy in our increasingly interconnected world — that these outlets be robust and independent with a commitment to journalism of the highest ethical standards. I hope that’s also in the interest of the owners.
With warmest regards,