Bankruptcy

The End of a Libertarian Era: Freedom Communications Selling Off in Chunks

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As Warren Buffett expands his media holdings by buying 63 small newspapers this week (shouldn't he be giving that money to the government?), a much more liberty-oriented media empire is dismantling.

R.C. Hoiles: Radical Dude

Freedom Communications Inc., founded by irascible libertarian pontificator R.C. Hoiles as Freedom Newspapers in the 1930s, announced the sale of its Midwest newspapers on Thursday and Texas newspapers today. This follows the sale of all its television stations in April as well as a few individual papers in smaller deals. Aside from the company's two metro newspapers – The Orange County Register (Calif.) and The Gazette (Colorado Springs) – the sales leave the media company with a handful of community dailies and weeklies in California, North Carolina and Florida.

Hoiles was considered radical for his time and would still be considered radical were he still alive (probably even moreso now). As Reason's Brian Doherty documented in his book, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement (go buy it!), Hoiles was a vocal opponent of unions and forced public schooling. He believed in voluntary contributions for public services rather than coercive taxation, even for police. He was fined for violating wage control laws during World War II for giving out a raise. He also opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and believed in open immigration.

After Hoiles' death, Freedom Communications continued to grow, remaining in the hands of family until 2004, when several family members said they wanted out of the company. Freedom connected with Blackstone Group and Providence Equity Partners to buy out these family members. Blackstone and Providence bought 40 percent of the company for about $460 million, allowing the remaining family members to stay in control of the company.

But then the housing bubble burst, the recession hit and ad sales plummeted. Freedom struggled, just like  nearly every other media company. Freedom went through forced employee furloughs and several rounds of layoffs, but by 2009 it reached a point where it was unable to make its loan payments. Working with its creditors, Freedom filed for bankruptcy and restructured. When it emerged from bankruptcy in 2010, the agreement with creditors reduced its debt from around $770 million to $325 million. But it also all but eliminated the stakes the Hoiles family (as well as Blackstone and Providence) held in the company. Its lenders and investment firms took control. The Hoiles era was over.

(Full disclosure: Up until the end of April I was the editor of the Desert Dispatch in Barstow, Calif., one of Freedom's smaller dailies. The observations that follow are from my own experiences working there for the past 10 years.)

Future uncertain

After the bankruptcy, no dictates came down from the new owners demanding any sort of changes in the newspapers' editorial positions. The only change was that the newspapers were now free to endorse candidates on their editorial pages, something that had been previously forbidden. Editorial boards could take stands on initiatives and referendums, but not actual people. There were a lot of reasons for the rule, the simplest being "politicians lie."

Before, during and after the bankruptcy, Freedom Communications had been on the market looking for buyers. It was pretty obvious that the new ownership model was not meant to be permanent. The piecemeal sale of the company does not appear to be coming as a surprise to most staff (I'm still in touch with some through social media channels).

Whether libertarian attitudes will remain prominent on the opinion page under their new owners is not yet clear. Freedom's Texas papers were sold to AIM Media Texas, a new company founded by former Dallas Morning News President Jeremy Halbriech specifically for the purchase. The Midwest papers were sold to Ohio Community Media, a collection of community newspapers that doesn't seem to have a consistent editorial view (or sometimes even any at all, at least on some newspaper websites).

It's probably safe to say there won't necessarily be an expectation of libertarian views, as there were under Freedom Communications. Editorial positions were expected to advance libertarian philosophy. Not every component of the editorial page needed to be of libertarian bent, but anybody reading the opinion pages on a regular basis should grasp the editorial writers' support of economic and personal freedom. (This ultimately resulted in me frequently being accused of clinging to every single ideology except for libertarianism.)

What's really lost is the amassing of a small chain of media outlets across the United States that was at least friendly to libertarian thought. Once a year, until financial struggles killed it off, publishers and top editors would attend a weeklong management conference. The first couple of days were nicknamed "Freedom School" and were dominated by talks by libertarian (or libertarian-leaning) luminaries whose names you see regularly at Reason.com: Jonathan Rauch, Veronique de Rugy, Andrew Napolitano. It's where I first met Steven Greenhut, who helped me make sense of California's utterly absurd Redevelopment Agency system.

But ultimately, it's only fair that if Freedom Communications were to fail, it would be at the hands of the market (insert caveat about government's role in the housing bubble/collapse here). While one avenue of expressing libertarian opinion may fade, dozens more pop up in the growing and increasingly personal new media. The arguments in favor of libertarian philosophy are at everybody's fingertips now. Traditional media may be struggling to adapt, but so too is public education: the government monopoly on the school system is crumbling. Even as Hoiles' empire may well be breathing its last, his philosophy finds new adherents.

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  1. “Shouldn’t he be giving that money to the government?”

  2. Meanwhile, The Most Transparent Administration Ever continues to emulate Vlad Putin:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…..27748.html

  3. 63 small newspapers? Keep making decisions like that you old crony and you won’t need to worry about giving all of your money to the government.

    Is he going to use these archaic rags to spread the propaganda of his new evolved master? Guess he is just a pretty harmless senile old fuck after all.

    1. Some of the smaller papers are doing fine. Readers will pay for obituaries,police logs, high school sports, local beauty pageants and anything else that gets people’s names and pictures in the paper.

      1. The small town papers are generally profitable. Overstaffing isn’t the problem it is with the metro dailies (most have an editorial staff of maybe 5-10, most of whom are fresh out of or perhaps even still in J-school) and what content isn’t taken from the wires is exclusive: likely no TV covering it, no radio covering it, and no internet coverage either. The classifieds for those papers also seem to be less affected by craigslist than those of metro papers.

        Even though the small-town papers generally haven’t embraced the Internet, they’re a hell of a lot better positioned than the metro papers.

  4. I still get the Register. I know, I’m an anachonism.

  5. OT: But someone needs to send this Bashir idiot back to Lancaster.

    Good lord I hate this guy.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…..ref=topbar

    The General Counsel of Koch Enterprises tries to defend the Koch’s from Mr. Bashir’s ridiculous accusations, and Bashir keeps asking them why they beat their wives.

    I’m a little surprised I made it through the whole thing, but I think I’ve reached my monthly MSNBC viewing limit with this one.

    1. So Bashir’s Liberal Attributes ™ are ‘OMG GUNS R EVIL FUUUUU’,’Ad Hominem Expert Attack’, and ‘Farcical Strawman Generator’.

      Another honorary citizen of Dumbfuckistan. On MSNBC. Shocker.

      1. It’s funny that he thinks that support of stand your ground laws is automatically some sort of indictment upon the character of the supporter.

        The lawyer should of stood his ground, *ahem*, and said “Yeah they support stand your ground, as most sane people do.”

    2. OH NO! The evil Koch brothers!

      I love to tell progressives that I work for the Koch brothers ( I don’t) and watch them go into foaming at the mouth/ankle biting fits. They have no damn idea who the Koch brothers are, what they do, or even what their first names are, but they do know that they are EVIL! Because the Fluffington Post told them so!

      I couldn’t watch the entire thing, you are right, Bashir is another intolerably annoying liberal media whore.

      1. They have no damn idea who the Koch brothers are, what they do, or even what their first names are

        Their first names are Koch and their last name is Brothers.

        Duh!!!

        1. Lol, the sad thing is that the same libtards that I am talking about probably believe that.

        2. They have a mission from God!

    3. So the opinion of Bashir is that if you have great success in your work, you are pure evil, unless you are a corrupt democrat politician of course. But if you are a lazy POS sucking from the government teat, produce nothing useful for society, and whine non-stop that you don’t get enough free stuff for doing nothing, then you are good? How long can any society last when people like this own the media and have almost all of the political power?

  6. I used to occasionally read the Lima paper – much different than the Toledo Blade or the Bowling Green Sentinel Tribune. About as different as the Macon Telegraph is from the AJC.

    1. You lived in Peru? Did you ever sit up at Machu-Picchu and read the paper? If I ever had to try to enjoy reading an archaic rag , I would want it to be there.

      1. I believe he is referring to Lima, Ohio.

        1. /sarcasm

          I’m from Ohio, I know what he meant.

  7. Did anyone watch the video that followed that? With Sharpton? Good God. Eduardo Luiz Saverin is my new hero. Where would dumbfuck losers like Sharpton be without the wealth that people like Saverin produced in this country? I can tell you, wallowing in their own filth in a 3rd world shithole. I really cannot wait to see it, no matter how much I have to suffer myself to see it, it will be worth it.

    1. Don’t be such a capitalist freedom-lover. Socialism and governmental chains are good for you, you know! So shut the fuck up and STOP RESISTING. *Taser*.

      1. Yes, and we can watch it play out live soon on worldwide TV, graciously brought to us by the new and evolved France! I am sure it will be the ultimate success story, the progressives will herald it forever in their new found glory! FORWARD!!!!

    2. Where’s the sharpton vid?

      I can’t find it and I’m not angry enough after the bashir flic.

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  11. “He was fined for violating wage control laws during World War II for giving out a raise.”

    Foe of Labor! Foe of Labor!

    1. Back in my teaching days, I used ot occasionally amuse myself by pointing out what a raging fascist FDR was to my MA liberal colleagues. Good times.

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