The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal notes the rise in private (i.e. non-public shareholding) ownership of newspapers and warns, “Be careful what you wish for.” He says the Citizen Kanes of a new era will not be the saviors some people believe.
OK, but so what? (And why does he use a fictional character to illustrate a point that could easily have been done with a real historical figure?)
Yes, we will see plenty of predations and bad acts by local owners. Witness the sad act in Santa Barbara, where the wealthy owner is systematically wrecking her property. This will make a great made-for-TV movie someday. Perhaps this sort of behavior will be more the rule than the exception in most communities where some rich person takes over the paper, but somehow I doubt it.
But it’s difficult for me to imagine a local owner being more cruel and greedy than the new corporate owners of the Akron Beacon Journal, who claimed they had no plans for big personnel changes when they bought the paper and then laid off a quarter of the staff. I’m not saying the layoffs were necessarily out of line with economic reality (I don’t know the situation well enough). I am saying that it’s probably harder to lie so baldly when you’re looking a person in the eye; a local owner has to do that from time to time.