Editor's Note: This column by Jim Hightower, a long-time contributor to The Progressive, was rejected by Creators Syndicate, which has been distributing Hightower's column for the past decade. "The big, hedge-fund owned newspaper chains that Hightower calls out in his column are big customers of theirs" remarked Hightower's assistant, Melody Byrd. "It's one more example of this dangerous time for America's decreasingly-free press that, ironically, Jim lays out in this very column." We are pleased to publish that column here.
Atwo-panel cartoon I recently saw showed a character with a sign saying: "First they came for the reporters." In the next panel, his sign says: "We don't know what happened after that."
This was, of course, a retort to Donald Trump's ignorant campaign to demonize the news media as " the enemy of the people." But when it comes to America's once-proud newspapers, their worst enemy is not Trump--nor is it the rising cost of newsprint or the "free" digital news on websites.
Rather, the demise of the real news reporting by our city and regional papers is a product of their profiteering owners. Not the families and companies that built and nurtured true journalism, but the new breed of fast-buck hucksters who've scooped up hundreds of Americas newspapers from the bargain bins of media sell-offs.
The buyers are hedge-fund scavengers with names like Digital First and GateHouse. They know nothing about journalism and care less, for they're ruthless Wall Street profiteers out to grab big bucks fast by slashing the journalistic and production staffs of each paper, voiding all employee benefits (from pensions to free coffee in the breakroom), shriveling the papers size and news content--then shutting down the paper and auctioning off the bones before moving on to plunder another town's paper.
By 2014, America's two largest media chains were not venerable publishers who believe that a newspapers mission includes a commitment to truth and a civic responsibility, but GateHouse and Digital First, whose managers believe that good journalism is measured by the personal profit they can squeeze from it.
As revealed last year in an American Prospect article, Gate-House executives had demanded that its papers cut $27 million from their operating expenses. Thousands of newspaper employees suffered that $27 million cut in large part because one employee--the hedge fund's chief executive officer--had extracted $54 million in personal pay from...