Newspapers are broke. Broke broke. I’ll smoke just half this cigarette tonight so I’ll have half left for the morning broke.
The internet evaporated classified ad sales – once about half of a newspaper’s income – and it turns out that giving away the product for free on-line was not a terribly good business model.
Responding by gutting local news coverage – the only thing readers couldn’t get anywhere else – and alienating more than half (at least) of their readers with woker-than-thou pseudo-news were also not good ideas.
Just 15 or so years ago, a typical paper reaped a net – very very net – profit each year of between 10 and 17% (that’s why people paid a lot of money for them then in the late 1990s – oops.) Now they are valued more for their property than the paper itself.
Some papers have responded by becoming a toy a mega-rich person can use to yell progressive things at people, but even they can sometimes reach their financial limit (take the Los Angeles Times, which not only already sold its valuable downtown property and moved to El Segundo but seems to have been purchased based on the following business plan: “Honey, I’m giving you a billion dollars for graduation – have fun lighting it in fire!”)
Newspapers are broke and it’s their fault.
Not all, of course. The Wall Street Journal was highly criticized when, at the dawn of the internet, it said “to hell with that – you pay” and the New York Times panders exclusively to its high-income subscribers and never tells them something they might disagree with so they don’t cancel their subscription. They’re both dong just fine.
For most of the rest, though, it’s become a cold winter out there.
To address this shortfall, many papers have taken to accepting grant funds from non-profits, foundations, and non-governmental organizations. And not just from local general do-godderies, but from groups with very specific interests and opinions and desired outcomes.
Take the Sacramento Bee…please (sorry, couldn’t resist.) Their health care coverage is/was directly funded to the tune of about $175,000 a year (more than enough to rent a reporter) by the California Endowment, an uber-woke, highly political “non-profit” that was set up by the state to help provide access to affordable health insurance but instead plows almost all of its money into advocacy, outreach, and political groups.
CalMatters has a similar arrangement with the California Health Care Foundation, getting about $600,000 per year to pay for its health care beat.
These are just two examples of hundreds of such arrangements across the country – arrangements that are typically not at all mentioned by the newspaper. For example, George Soros dropped about $130 million on newspapers and media outlets – even some directly on high-profile media personalities – between 2016 and 2020.
That’s why if anyone ever says that maybe it’s not great that Soros is funding the election of horrible, dangerous, disastrous district attorney’s like LA’s George Gascon they are immediately called an anti-semite in the press.
In the long, long ago, newspapers got money from advertisers but they were kept at very arm’s length from the newsroom. That may sound suspicious, but it was actually true – papers told irked advertisers to pound sand, in part because of something called ethics, in part because they could afford to, and in part because if they were the only newspaper in town, where was the advertiser going to go to, anyway?
While CalMatters usually – they admit they miss at times – actually lets the reader know who is paying for coverage of a topic with a paragraph at the bottom of the story, the Bee does no such thing and did not respond to numerous previous attempts to comment on such clearly unethical behavior.
Occasionally, you can find out who is paying for the stories you read, somewhere, maybe, on the website but that’s not made easy. In fact, the quest can be similar to Arthur Dent’s travails in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” when he asked to see the permits for the road that was about to be put through his house:
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”
In other words, it’s an industry dirty secret – but there could be a way to at least bring the practice to light.
There are things called newspapers of public record, or adjudicated newspapers. These are the papers where you can go to print your public notices, name change, lien, etc. Not every publication is adjudicated and adjudication lists are created county-by-county or town by town or even at the state level (in California, it’s county-based; for example there are 10 adjudicated papers in Orange County, 5 in San Francisco, etc.)
Being adjudicated is important for a newspaper as the public notice fees are easy money.
So how about this – to retain adjudicated status, a newspaper must disclose somewhere in each article exactly who paid for it. In other words, a health care story in the Bee would have to end with “This was made possible by The California Endowment, a horribly leftist political nightmare that oozes woke in its sleep and is paying us to control our coverage of the health care.”
Or something like that.
True, the idea wouldn’t necessarily apply to news websites and it would involve legislation (essentially modifying various business codes) but it is legal, doesn’t take the paper’s money away, doesn’t impinge on free speech, and would at least be a tiny tiny step to help rebuild even a modicum of trust in a battered, bloodied, banal, bullshit – but undeniably necessary – industry.
Newspapers being honest with their readers – maybe the time has come.
- How Biden Can Win… and Trump and Newsom and DeSantis, Too - November 27, 2023
- About Last Week…California Democrats Seem to Know They Have a Problem - November 26, 2023
- Happy Decolonization Weekend! - November 23, 2023