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Will Privately Held Mean Better?

Washington Post: A Push Toward Private Control of Newspapers. The recent breakup of the Knight Ridder Inc. newspaper chain has helped spark interest around the country in returning papers to local or private ownership after decades of expansion by corporate media conglomerates.

This is, on balance, a  good thing. Too few publicly owned newspaper companies have shown the kind of grit to stand up to Wall Street’s demands — and in almost every case they’ve been the ones with two-tiered stock ownership that lets the managers focus on great journalism above great profits.

Local owners will have some of the same demands placed on them by the people who finance these go-private deals. But there will be the potential for more flexibility, and especially for more understanding of the community.

The risk, of course, is that the new owners will be the kind who use their papers to push political and business interests above the journalism. (What, like Rupert Murdoch? Imagine!) This will happen.

The difference now, of course, is that these manipulations will be visible more widely. In the old days when the local paper was the local paper, when there was almost no competition, an owner could flog his interests with little public knowledge. Today and tomorrow, bloggers will point out such activities with relish, and more of the community will be in on the game.

The next great experiment in American professional journalism is beginning.

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