The bankruptcy of the McClatchy newspaper chain has driven Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg to mount a rescue operation. As Ryan Lillis reports, Steinberg is working to “form a local ownership group that could purchase The Sacramento Bee, separating the 163-year-old publication from its parent company and more than two-dozen sister newspapers across the U.S.” The newly reelected mayor is fired up for the cause.
“We’re not going down without a fight on behalf of the community,” the mayor proclaims, “just like we didn’t go down when it came to the Kings, when it came to Major League Soccer, when it came to everything else we are achieving in this city and in this region.”
Residents of the city and the region have cause to wonder about the parallels.
Sacramento functioned well as a city before the Kings of the National Basketball Association set up shop in 1985. In those days, Sacramento was a two-newspaper town, with the Bee and the Sacramento Union. The NBA is not in bankruptcy and the Kings do not stand in need of new ownership.
Regional residents might also strain to find a parallel between the establishment of a major league soccer team and the rescue of a bankrupt newspaper chain. Taxpayer support for privately owned sports teams is a matter of some dispute, and a politician’s efforts to rescue a newspaper might raise some red flags.
“Are we better off in any way if we lose one of the most important voices for independent journalism?” Steinberg wonders, adding, “high caliber, independent journalism is essential for California’s capital city.” Californians might agree with the need for independent journalism but question how the Bee qualifies as an independent voice.
As California Globe noted, the Bee has been a purveyor of fake news in the columns of Diana Griego Erwin, who was allowed to resign when her longstanding fakery was exposed.
The current opinion editor of the Bee is Gil Duran, a former press secretary for California Gov. Jerry Brown and communications director for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, San Francisco Democrat.
In columns on key events, writers are rarely identified as political appointees, or party operatives.
For his part, Mayor Steinberg appears to ignore political bias and fake news as contributors to the bankrupt newspaper he now sets out to rescue.
“It’s my job to rally and to organize and to help bring forward some real ideas that might, might, might save the day,” the mayor explains. Californians might believe the major’s job is to run the city in a responsible and prudent manner, not to mount a rescue operation for a bankrupt newspaper chain. On the other hand, the mayor is right that the project is a long shot.
According to Lillis, if a judge approves the McClatchy bankruptcy, the Bee’s likely new owner would be Chatham Asset Management LLC, a New Jersey-based hedge fund. Purchasing the Sacramento Bee during bankruptcy proceedings would be “a complicated but not unprecedented maneuver,” and according to news industry analyst Ken Doctor, a new owner “would have to rebuild pretty much from the ground up.”
Any prospective new owner might have ideas different from current McClatchy bosses and Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg.