April 30, 2013

The #KochBros must be stopped? But how? And why?

Image via FreePress.net
Just about every liberal activist knows by now that the billionaire climate-denying oil barons, Charles and David Koch, want to buy the suite of newspapers in the Tribune Company, including the L.A. Times and Chicago Trib. Mother Jones has a good profile of what's at stake here.

First, on the "they must be stopped" is ... maybe not. Maybe they don't need to be stopped.

Garance Franke-Ruta, at the Atlantic, argues that as regional papers (yes, the gutted L.A. Times, since the Trib takeover followed by the Sam Zell demoltion, is that; it's not a national newspaper anymore, if it was at one time), they can't go too conservative, or the market forces that the likes of the Kochs like to tout (until folding, spindling and mutilating them) will demolish them.

She has a good point. Nowhere in the U.S. is an avowedly conservative paper the leading paper in a city. The Washington Times is obliterated. The New York Post is a laughingstock to all but true believers. Phil Anschutz's  Examiner stable are also-rans in all locations.

In the two biggest cities in question, there's other issues. The L.A. Daily News and the Orange County Register are already more conservative than the Times, definitely with the OCR, arguably with the Daily News. If the Kochs try to go right of both of them, the Times will tank for sure. In Chicago, the Sun-Times is arguably more conservative.

In Baltimore, if they take the Sun too far right, a Washington Post with brains, and a gamble, could start a Baltimore edition.

And, especially with a fair amount of news not paywalled, including all AP and Reuters news via news aggregators, it would be easy for a lot of readers to ditch them for non-local news anyway, and then, if they don't live in the central city, rely on their suburban weeklies for print news and radio or TV for big local or regional news.

Speaking from my personal-professional knowledge of the industry, the Kochs could take a bloodbath in L.A. and Chicago.

If Dean Singleton finds more brains than he's shown in the past, or his hedge fund stakeholders force him to, the Daily News could take a half-step to the left in L.A., while beefing up local coverage, and obliterate a partisanly-hacked Times.

And, reflecting this? Yes, wingnut claims aside, the typical reporter or editor at a big-city paper is probably at least a bit more liberal than the general readership, but reportedly, HALF of Times staffers indicate they'll quit if the Kochs buy the paper.

In Chicago, the Sun-Times isn't as much more conservative as the OCR is in greater Los Angeles; it may be more so than the Daily News, but it still wouldn't be too hard of a step. Heck, some Trib readers might go there by default. Let's not forget, either, that Chicago has a set of suburban daily papers. If a Koch-owned Trib flushes real journalism down the terlit, they'll be set to pounce.

Of course, the counterargument is "Sun Myung Moon." He willingly took a bloodbath, year after year, over the Washington Times.  The Kochs could do so for even longer. And, if L.A. Times staffers are dead set on quitting, if the Kochs buy the paper, they'll hire replacements for less. In fact, they probably welcome you quitting just as much as you welcome the idea of quitting.

So, perhaps Franke-Ruta is just half right.

That said, beyond money, there's the issue of "reach," of influence.

If the Koch Bros. make a knee-jerk change of direction with these papers, even if they don't care about financial losses, the loss of readership will mean loss of influence.

That said, I don't think the Kochs do "nuance" very well. But, since the average newspaper reader is better educated than the average general American, and the Koch Bros. have a reputation, the only way to get past that is by doing "nuance."

Again, back to Moon and the Moonie Times. It did nothing but preach to the choir in an echo chamber.

Now, what if this isn't good enough, and you think the Koch Bros. must be "stopped."

As to the "how"? There's nothing illegal about them buying the papers. There's also no civil monopoly at stake or conflict of interest at stake. In short, unless some liberal group wants to outbid them, they have a right to do what they want.

A better starter project would be to write PBS, protesting the David H. Koch Fund for Science's continued sponsorship of Nova.

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