AuthorHightower, Jim

My newspaper died. Well, technically it still appears, but even when it is delivered it has no life, no news, and barely a pulse. It is a mere semblance of a real paper, one of the hundreds of local journalism zombies staggering along in cities and towns that had long relied on their once vigorous selves. Each one has a bare number of subscribers keeping it going, mostly longtime readers like me clinging to a memory of what used to be and a flickering hope that, surely, the thing won't get worse. Then it does.

Our papers are getting worse--at a time when we desperately need them to get better--because they are no longer mediums of journalism, civic purpose, and local identity. Rather, they have been reduced to little more than profit siphons, steadily piping local money to a handful of distant, high-finance syndicates that have bought out our hometown journals. The Austin American-Statesman, for example, was swallowed up in 2019 by the nationwide Gannett chain, becoming one of more than 500 local papers that Gannett mass produces including under its corporate banner, "The USA Today Network." But even that reference is a deception, for the publication doesn't confide to readers that it's actually a product of SoftBank Group, a multibillion-dollar Japanese financial consortium that owns and controls Gannett.

SoftBank has no interest in Austin as a place, a community, or even as a newspaper market, nor does it care one whit about advancing the principles of journalism. It is in the profit business, specifically the business of extracting maximum short-term payouts from the properties it owns.

This has rapidly become the standard business model for American newspapering. Today, almost half of all daily papers in the United States are in the grip of just ten of these money syndicates. Indeed, only three high-flying hedge funds -- SoftBank, Alden Global Capital, and Chatham Asset Management--have captured your dailies in Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Des Moines, Detroit, El Paso, Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Louisville, Miami, Milwaukee, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Jose, St. Paul -- and many more. Equally important, these profiteers are snatching up hundreds of weekly papers meant to serve neighborhoods, suburbs, and rural communities from coast to coast.

Far from serving our news needs, they are strictly interested in diverting the income and assets of our...

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