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  • Writer's pictureMichael McAuliff

Schumer Hopes The Rich Rescue Newspapers -- And American Democracy

Chuck Schumer is appealing to rich people to save America's newspapers, and thereby rescue American democracy.

The newspaper business has been decimated over the last couple of decades, with the number of reporters employed at papers dropping by 45 percent from 2008 to 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. Circulation has plummeted as well, from about 50 million a day to 31 million over a similar time span.

Lots of blame goes to the Internet generally, to changing reading habits, to newspapers that adapted poorly, and to Facebook and Google, which had dominated digital advertising.

But another culprit is rapacious newspaper consolidation. The Gannett model was to buy papers, and layoff staff to maintain profit margins. It worked so well, they acquired imitators, most notably the Alden Capital Group, a hedge fund that runs Digital First Media. Digital First became infamous for its evisceration of the Denver Post. Digital First is now trying to buy Gannett.

Gannett runs a number of papers in New York, and that caught Schumer's attention Tuesday. He went out of the Senate floor to describe Alden as "a hedge fund, known as the destroyer of newspapers."

He said newspapers are vital parts of the civic fabric, and he doesn't want to see papers like the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle or Westchester's News Journal get gutted any more than they already have been by Gannett. He said they face "potential annihilation by a different media conglomerate backed by an even more indifferent hedge fund."

He was frank in saying he doesn't know what the economic solution is for newspapers, but he did offer the solution that caught my ear -- an appeal to the wealthy, such as the billionaires who have bought the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Enquirer and the Los Angeles Times.

"The only antidote to these problems I have seen is the rarer and rarer presence of generous civic-minded families and individuals who own news outlets for the right reasons, not simply to maximize profits -- although profit is still important -- but because they feel an obligation to advance journalism for the greater benefit of us all," Schumer said.

"I would propose that charitably inclined institutions and individuals should begin to think of journalism as a philanthropic endeavor," he continued. "If it becomes a worthy endeavor to buy a local newspaper and preserve its size and independence, just as it is a worthy endeavor to support the local hospital, school, charity, many more might consider doing it."

"As Americans, we must continue to support the First Amendment, the freedom and viability of the press," he said. "Our democracy depends on it."

The video is bookmarked at the appeal to the wealthy.


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