National Commentary

Wall Street Eats Newspapers

This week it is not the Russians, or Trump and the National Enquirer that a new, heavily-researched expose in the Washington Post has brought front and center as guilty parties in the would-be destruction of America and her democratic institutions. It is the third leg, so to speak, of an ugly Martian war machine of utter destruction (as imagined by H.G. Wells in his “War of the Worlds” fantasy of over a century ago), Wall Street and its indifferent, insatiable designs.

It’s Wall Street’s so-called “hedge funds,” to be exact, and they’re ripping to shreds the public’s ability to know by systematically buying and dismantling newspaper organizations across the nation.

Most newspapers are vulnerable these days because the combined effects of alternative media (the Internet and organizations that masquerade as news, like Fox News) and declining advertising revenues that are the result of competition and the general “new normal” downsizing of the U.S. economy. The numbers are staggering with 45 percent of newsroom positions having vanished just between 2008 (the Great Recession) and 2017.

Some 1,800 newspapers, primarily weeklies, have disappeared from the U.S. landscape since 2004, according to the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism, leaving 171 counties without any paper and roughly half the 3,143 counties in the U.S. with only one newspaper, usually a small weekly.

In this context, reverting to digital alternatives has also proven wanting, as the bulk of advertising revenues derived from that source have already been gobbled up by Google and Facebook, collecting 57 percent of all the digital advertising revenue in the U.S. last year. In addition, sites like Instagram, Amazon, Snapchat and Twitter, none of which are news organizations per se, also corner large shares of the ad revenue market, according to a recent article by Paul Farhi in the Post.

This has led to the recent stunning announcements of huge newsroom layoffs of online news sources like Buzzfeed, showing zero net revenue despite a $300 million budget, Yahoo, the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast, among others.

So, from top to bottom, except where an incredibly wealthy individual is willing to subsidize a news organization, such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos with the Washington Post, everybody is hurting. There is nothing on the horizon to suggest a change for the better, either.

It’s in this context that, as the Post’s Jonathan O’Connell and Emma Brown reported this week (“Hedge Fund Guts Newspapers As It Profits from Their Land”), Wall Street asset-stripping operations like Alden Global Capital and their fronts like Twenty State Holdings and Digital First Media are coming after newspapers, including with a present, attempted hostile takeover of Gannett News, to sell off their tangible assets — mostly real estate holdings — and leave the remains (the newsrooms) writhing in pain and paralysis in snow-bound gutters.

This approach has led to the veritable demise of formerly proud urban daily newspapers like the Denver Post (long after its rival, the Rocky Mountain News, went under) and Gannett’s USA Today.

This is a horrible, predatory process that does not constitute capitalism, but the lowest form of bottom-feeder exploitation, and the losers are not the ailing news organizations themselves, so much as the American people and the health and stability of the national democratic process that depends on public information to survive.

The bloodthirsty wretches of Wall Street who fever over the carcasses of once proud newspapers neither know, nor care, anything for what makes for a truly free society. They’re so deeply wallowed in their own cultural perversions that they wouldn’t know a moral argument for preserving democratic institutions if it hit them in the face.

I’ve experienced this first hand with my own newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press, now going on 30 years of consecutive weekly publication. That criminal enterprise known as a bank, Wells Fargo, called in my line of credit a decade ago simply because they surmised that the paper wasn’t going to make it. Well, we’re still here and the debt has been paid. But, unfortunately, so is Wells Fargo.