Anti-media consolidation activists, among their many, many complaints, have bristled at faceless corporate control of newspapers, at the cost-cutting pressures that come with being a publicly traded newspaper company, at the lack of local ownership (and concern with local affairs that comes with it); and, above all, at the trend of media companies gobbling up ever more media companies, thereby (allegedly − and inaccurately) creating a "media monopoly."
So along comes a decidedly unfaceless individualist who buys a newspaper company anchored in his two hometowns − Chicago and Los Angeles − and promptly takes it off the stock exchange, even making employees his partners. Instead of expanding his new company's empire, he sells various pieces off, thus diluting whatever "opoly" we're on now. All the while mandating more local coverage.
Shall we try to guess how the StopBigMedia coalition has reacted to Sam Zell? The Chicago Reader's Michael Miner talks to various media grumpuses, including Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver, and discovers that Zell is the new, woefully inappropriate poster boy for anti-media consolidation.
"He insults journalists and journalism at virtually every whistle stop on his tour," Silver replied, referring to Zell's visits to Tribune Company properties. "He says it's not about democracy − it's about profits. The American public and policy makers have to decide whether journalism is produced purely for the reaping of profit or if it's a central component to a functioning participatory democracy.
"And based on the answer to that question," Silver went on, "you make policy accordingly. There is no such thing as a deregulated media policy system. The only question is, will the media be regulated for the largest media corporations or regulated on behalf of the American public. That's what all of our anticonsolidation efforts are about."
I have long since come to the conclusion that "anticonsolidation" activists are ultimately just "anti-media activists," whose main goal is to have the local daily staffed like a state university, totally unprofitable, covering issues of most concern to ... anticonsolidation activists.
As for the Sarb-Ox-hating Zell, who I came within an eyelash of working for, whatever his other sins and virtues, he has singlehandedly done something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime: Turn alternative weeklies − institutions that, you'll recall, hate more than anybody else the flunkies working at the dominant local daily − into his beleaguered newsrooms' biggest defenders. If nothing else, it's nice to see someone replace Rupert Murdoch as the media bete noire for a change.