Who's afraid of the big bad Republicans?

Big national chains are bad, and local ownership is good, right?

Not necessarily. It depends on who the local parties are -- and whom you ask.

Huge headlines today confirm that the Philadelphia Inquirer has been bought by a consortium of local businesspeople. Here's a look at who they are:

One sells cars and another hawks diet food. There are an ad man, an insurance broker, and a money manager.

In all, seven individuals and a union pension fund that form the new board of directors of The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com appear to have little in common except this: a lot of money to invest, and a professed love for Philadelphia and its environs.

For most of the first-time newspaper owners brought together by advertising and public-relations executive Brian P. Tierney, the purchase will simply add to an already broad stable of local ventures in which they have a major stake or leadership role. That includes NutriSystem Inc., Reedman-Toll Auto World, and Donald Trump's slots parlor bid.

Politically, at least two have been staunch Republican donors, two have been Democratic supporters, and two have given to both. Two are women, and one is African American. And for at least one, Catholicism and religion-related activism have been a major facet of his work.

As a local privately held company, Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C. will not have to obey Wall Street on profit and spending, free to tailor all its resources and priorities to the regional media market for the first time since Walter H. Annenberg was publisher in 1969, Tierney said.

Local control is normally said to be a good thing. (Closer to the community, etc.) But in this case, there seems to be a political litmus test, and there are worries about whether there will be too much "influence." By Republicans. Two of them!

Local leftists are not too happy about it. Atrios warns of "bad times" ahead, links to Editor and Publisher's dire warnings of Republicanism, and concludes that "all signs point to scary." And in the most uncivil language possible, a local blogger slams the Inquirer's new CEO for being a Republican, and adds,

I guess itís up to us to disintermediate him so he loses his millions. It wonít be pretty.
Not sure who "they" are, or how they plan to "disintermediate" him.

Bad and "scary" times ahead? The Inquirer has been struggling, and now it appears that it will survive. What is scary about that?

Is "scary" simply a synonym for Republican?

From what I can see so far, the staff doesn't appear to be terribly frightened. Editor Amanda Bennett describes herself as "not worried at all":

"Unlike the financial fight, maintaining journalistic integrity is a fight I know how to fight and everyone in this newsroom knows how to fight."
She sure does. Ms. Bennett is one of the few editors in this country who bucked a very cowardly trend in her decision to publish the Muhammad cartoon. For this she faced down angry Muslim demonstrators, but refused to apologize.

And she's supposed to be afraid of a couple of Republicans?

Longtime reporter Larry Eichel, discussing the potential for influence by the new owners, doesn't seem frightened either:

The potential for the exercise of influence, whether real or perceived, goes beyond the businesses the investors run. They serve as directors of other corporations, on the boards of local nonprofit and cultural institutions. They have histories of political involvement.

"This is ethical minefield territory," said Robert M. Steele, chief ethicist at the Poynter Institute for journalism in Florida. "It takes a real strong gut check by the owners at the front end in terms of what values, what principles, will guide them in both the business enterprise and the public-service role and responsibility."

Exactly how these various forces play out at 400 N. Broad St. is sure to be monitored closely by local interest groups and the national journalism community.

Robert W. McChesney, a professor at the University of Illinois who has studied media ownership, said that his concern was the possible long-term chilling effect on journalists.

"As time goes on, and you have staff turnover, a new organizational sociology can take hold," McChesney said. "It doesn't require anyone to march in to the newsroom and say, 'This is how it's going to be.' People just understand."

What worries some analysts is that the new owners are not steeped in the newspaper culture and may not understand the full ramifications of an "independent" news operation.

Said Frank Blethen, publisher of the locally controlled Seattle Times and an advocate of local ownership: "In spite of the unusual nature of the ownership and their possible agendas, I think Philadelphia readers are better off with this than with any of the alternatives. They have local people whom they can hold accountable for what happens."

In 1950, Walter Lippmann, the pundit and press critic, said the key to a free press was "that it should consist of many newspapers decentralized in their ownership and their management, and dependent for their support . . . upon the communities where they are written."

I grew up reading the Inquirer when it was in the hands of Walter Annenberg. A staunch Republican, he sold the paper to Knight-Ridder when President Nixon appointed him as Ambassador to England.

In a very thoughtful post, former Knight-Ridder employee Joe Gandelman remembers the good old days of the company, but raises questions about whether Knight-Ridder morphed into a Darth Vader style corporation which eventually cut the heart out of journalism. Joe links to this post by former Knight reporter Shaun Mullen:

Ridder, with the acquiesence of his Tweedledum board of directors, slowly bled the Daily News and Inky. Although there was not a direct cause-and-effect relationship, the circulations of both papers went into precipitous declines.
And now, Darth Vader has put the paper back into local hands.

I'm glad the Inquirer will survive, and I think it's a good thing for for it to become an independent local newspaper again. I see no reason to expect to see any change in their editorial viewpoints, and I am sure I'll continue to have regular disagreements.

Nothing scary about it.

UPDATE: My thanks to Blinq's Daniel Rubin for linking this post in his excellent roundup of local bloggers' reactions. They're all well worth reading.

posted by Eric on 05.24.06 at 07:04 AM










Comments

I'm a tad bit annoyed by the loony left's assertion that partisan liberals and leftists are the only ones who can bring objectivity to the news.

They see in FOXNews everything they fail to see in the rest of the MSM.

Steve   ·  May 24, 2006 7:45 PM

disintermediate? Wow. I had to look that one up. I guess that I should purchase the noun to verb morphifier upgrade v.2.

There seems to be a phase in the human exisitence where "things are never as good as they were" be it cars, food, service, etc. A luddite nostaliga? I suspect that it is related to the individuals age but it is certainly true looking back at any enterprise that you were at part of. Joe Gandelman seems to fall into this group. Times are changing. Always have and always will.

Yatalli   ·  May 26, 2006 11:07 AM

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