The Democracy Papers
Papers should be in local hands not bankers'
The Seattle Times Editorial Board advises the new owners of MediaNews Group to break up the national newspaper chain and put its newspapers in the hands of local owners.
THAT Bank of America and other lenders are taking an 88 percent stake in The Denver Post, The Salt Lake Tribune, The San Jose Mercury News and dozens of other U.S. newspapers is not welcome. Banks do not belong in the newspaper industry and should find a quick and honorable way out of it.
The nature, the role and the mentality of newspapers are too different from banking. Newspapers report on the banks; they should not be owned by them. Newspapers should be independent. That is a difficult charge at the moment, but the difficulty of it makes it no less necessary.
The event that occasions these thoughts is the Chapter 11 filing last week of Affiliated Media, of Denver. Affiliated Media owns MediaNews Group, which owns the above-named papers and others. MediaNews went on a spree of buying newspapers with money borrowed from banks. That strategy has failed. Media News' method of making money was by melding newspapers and their functions, tending to create a nationally homogenized product.
If there ever was a way to kill the American people's appetite for newspapers, it is this. Make the paper nonlocal. Make it the same everywhere. Treat it as a "property," like a telephone-company bond or a share of stock. Don't sweat the long run because in the long run, as the economist said, we are all dead.
That is not the way to save newspapers.
Newspapers need to be in the hands of people who care about them. Those are almost always investors with a strong local connection. The San Jose Mercury News ought to be owned by people from San Jose — not by a company in Denver owned by another company in Denver owned by a bank in Charlotte, N.C.
The banks taking over MediaNews should dismember the chain and sell the newspapers to local owners who will do right by them.