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Newspaper Publishers Want Congress to Bail Them Out of Bad Investments

Not even Congress has the power to turn back that clock to the old days of publishing. Nor would anyone with any sense want it to.

Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomCheriss May/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomIt's the sort of brazen move that might ordinarily trigger a front-page news story or an outraged editorial—a bunch of very rich individuals asking Congress to write them a law that would give them better negotiating power against other rich individuals.

Yet in this case, the rich individuals wanting special treatment are the newspaper owners themselves. The Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos (worth $83.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire's Index), The New York Times largest shareholder Carlos Slim (worth $61.1 billion), and Buffalo News owner Warren Buffett ($76.9 billion), publicly pleading poverty, are asking Congress for a helping hand in their negotiations with Google, controlled by Sergey Brin ($45.6 billion) and Larry Page ($46.8 billion).

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the Bezos-Slim-Buffett front man, David Chavern, president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, complained about what he called "an economically squeezed news industry." The Times, in a column sympathetic to the effort, likened the news providers to "serfs." Maybe Serf Bezos should have considered the economics of the news industry when he bought the Post, or Serf Slim when he bought his stake in the Times. The idea that Congress needs to roll to the rescue to bail "serfs" like Messrs. Bezos, Buffett, and Slim out of bad investments just doesn't pass the laugh test.

In respect of the Times, it's particularly comical, because, as an editorial matter, the paper generally favors stricter antitrust enforcement. The newspaper that less than two years ago was editorializing that Congress "should also study whether there are ways to strengthen the antitrust laws," now is backing the move for what its own columnist describes as "an anticompetitive safe haven," "a limited antitrust exemption."

One of Robert Bork's great scholarly insights was that if there's any logic to enforcing antitrust laws or enacting them in the first place at all, it is with a eye toward protecting consumers. The publishers make a case that news is a kind of special case because consumers are harmed by a decline in news quality. Or, as the Times quoted Chavern, "If you want a free news model, you will get news…But it will be garbage news."

I'm a paying, seven-day-a-week print newspaper subscriber who earns a living as a journalist primarily on the basis of people's willingness to pay for news. So I sympathize on some level with what Chavern is saying. But even I can see that his argument is, to use his own term, "garbage." Some excellent news—the CBS Evening News in its Walter Cronkite heyday, "60 Minutes"—is and was "free" to consumers, who paid with their willingness to be subjected to commercials. In this past election, the prediction model of the expensive, paid New York Times was just as wrong as that of the free Huffington Post. Nate Silver had a better prediction over at ESPN's free website.

Even if you buy the questionable idea that more expensive news automatically equals better news, it's a further, and even more tenuous, logical leap from that idea to the notion that Congress ought to interpose itself on one side of a set of business negotiations to make it easier for the publishers to make their news more expensive to consumers, or their ads more expensive to advertisers.

If publishers want to permit competing suppliers to negotiate prices and terms on a cooperative basis, then let them support changing the law to allow it in every industry, without special treatment for journalistic enterprises.

The Google-Facebook world has taken advertising and subscription revenue dollars out of publisher pockets. But it's been a huge boon to marketers and to readers. Advertisers can now reach targets more efficiently at a fraction of what they used to pay for print ads, and readers can now get news from a variety of sites and editors and journalists, from Matt Drudge to Mike Allen to Glenn Reynolds, rather than having to rely on the judgment of their one hometown newspaper editor. Not even Congress has the power to turn back that clock to the old days. Nor would anyone with any sense want it to, other than someone lucky (or unlucky) enough to have inherited a newspaper, or foolish enough to have overpaid for one.

Photo Credit: Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom

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  • BYODB||

    HAHAHA, everyone told them it was a shitty 'investment', but lets be real clear and absolutely honest about this. These guys got exactly what they paid for. A mouth-piece with a veneer of honesty.


    What did they go and do with those institutions?


    Well, for starters they peeled off the veneer. Then they sort of just gave up on profitability in favor of pushing their preferred policy outcomes.


    Does that about cover modern news outlets? Yeah. I think it does. 0% sympathy.

  • Kidwell1||

    Yup, what BYODB said!
    Next we'll have baseball team owners lining up because Americans can't afford to watch Americas pastime, so subsidize us since you've already paid for the stadiums!

  • Longtobefree||

    How about instead congress helps out the environment by outlawing print news?
    Put that in your climate change pipe and smoke it.

  • callahan2211||

    And outlaw junk mail. Imagine all the paper saved when junk mail and print news is no more.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Maybe Serf Bezos should have considered the economics of the news industry when he bought the Post...

    Or maybe, just maybe, this was the business model he had in mind the whole time. But you know the old saying: never pick an investment in people who buy ink by the barrel.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>are asking Congress for a helping hand

    fuck that. those are the last three assholes on this planet who should be asking for a helping hand.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Sounds like they still think they are relevant.

  • GILMORE™||

    OH YEAH WELL REASON IS LIKE TOTALLY FUNDED BY BAZILLIONAIRES LIKE SO NO ONE SHOULD TRUST YOU

    /actual arguments made by loyal WaPo / NYT readers

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Even if you buy the questionable idea that more expensive news automatically equals better news

    It makes the Fake News so much more polished.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Newspaper Publishers Want Congress to Bail Them Out of Bad Investments
    Not only no, but fuck NO!

    I want them all to go down, so I can buy the Washington Post back from Bezos for $1.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Free shipping and delivery in two days for Prime members.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Remember, its 2-day shipping from the day its ships not necessarily the day you order it.

  • Davulek||

    Been there, cancelled that.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    Newspapers like the Times/Post/etc. were always supported by advertising, not customers paying the cover price. The cover price of the newspaper was the bribe to distributors for pushing the product onto retailers, the subscription price was the bribe to distributors to push the product onto paper boys.

    If advertisers have found a better way to reach their customers than newspapers, then newspapers have to do a better job courting advertisers. It is not the customers' (advertisers and readers) fault that the newspaper isn't attractive to them. The editorial content of newspapers is so shitty they can't even drive traffic to their websites FOR FREE anymore.

    Take a look at the typical front page of a daily newspaper today versus the same newspaper 20 years ago. Newspapers actually think that one headline and one big, dopey color photo will attract more readers than 4 or 5 headlines and one small photo. Their choices have been abject failures but the big, dumb bureaucrats running newspapers refuse to admit their decisions are the reasons for drastically reduced circulation, stalled web traffic, and advertiser disinterest and instead push the same dumb decisions harder and harder.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Newspaper Publishers Want Congress to Bail Them Out of Bad Investments

    Oh, for crying out loud!
    Go under or pay for the newspaper yourself.
    We're sick and tired of paying for a bunch of incompetent corporate butt brains fuck ups.
    You would think these rich ass wipes would've learned something when Bush and Obama approved bailouts.
    Its not like they don't have the money.

  • ||

    Bezos especially has brass balls.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Newspaper Publishers Want Congress to Bail Them Out of Bad Investments

    I'm sure glad The Onion isn't in any financial trouble.
    That publication has more credibility than the newspapers mentioned above.

  • ||

    1) Fuck these billionaires. They knew these were loser industries. So I smell a rat. If the government is stupid enough to use tax dollars for a dying breed - which they are - this is problematic.

    I find it preposterous they would ask tax payers to cover their losses. Hey Bezos, you care about journalism? Pee'sh a cash as we used to say. You fucken pay for it.

    Same with the left's go-to guy Buffett.

    We're supposed to look up to these titans of business only to watch them act like a bunch of hobos to save them from their decisions.

    Seriously, this shit drives me up the wall because we all know the average businessman would be crushed by bad decisions and with NO sympathy from the government. But here are the connected with a straight face with their grubby hands out.

    2) This is where ALL people regardless of ideology can find common ground.

    Just say no.

    And fuck off.

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    The hilarious part is Buffett demanding a bailout for a bunch of billionaires, while also complaining that billionaires don't pay enough taxes.

    Tell ya what, Warren, just pretend you paid a bunch more taxes and got your bailout in the exact same amount. Then go pound sand.

  • ||

    If they get their way I see no difference between them and Musk and your every day pan handler. Heck, at least the pan handler isn't using the government to force people to him him or her...or it.

    What is it with these entrepreneurs who go straight full crony? And then we have to watch them on Shark Tank or Dragon's Den.

    They never tell you about the crony game.

  • Sevo||

    Well, they've been the government propaganda arm for a long time; shouldn't they be paid for that?

  • Pea-Gee||

    I submit that these clowns had a good run while it lasted.

    The world IS changing, and these moguls failed to keep up.

    I hope they spend their cash liberally in places like the US/Mexican border. Spend it away on all the people who deserve it, need it, and work HARD for a living, as penance for fouling-up the news so badly.

    It was your 'spin' that nobody really appreciated and you went from reporting, to editorializing the news.

    Nobody really wanted to know your boxed-up, collective opinions, just honest news.

    Pea-Gee

  • Sevo||

    "It was your 'spin' that nobody really appreciated and you went from reporting, to editorializing the news."

    The SF Chron recently gave the top of the front page to a woman staff writer who made up an entire story regarding a Pelosi claim as to how Trump was screwing up so much, it was giving the D's the perfect opportunity to regroup and take both houses back! If fact, I remember is was all of two or three days before Pelosi was handed her ass when the R won in GA.
    At one time, I expected to see the front section (not to mention the front page) covering things which had actually happened and providing the details (w/w/w/w; I think is the way it's supposed to go).
    This pile of propaganda not only hadn't happened, it was nothing other than a Pelosi puff-piece, One of the writers accused me of 'calling names' about 3 years ago, since I mentioned he worked for a lefty rag. He still works there.

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    Hilarious. Weren't they just a few weeks ago crowing about how their subscriptions went through the roof after Trump was elected? I suspected that was BS at the time and this would seem to prove it. Would've made more sense for them to go hat in hand to the fedgov when the Dems were in charge.

  • Carlos Inconvenience||

    You would've thought it made more sense for them to go to the feds when the Democrats were in charge. However I think we both know there's a sizable contingent of "me too" Republicans who would be only too happy to throw tons of tax dollars at these people in the vain attempt to buy better coverage.

  • Sprague Pond||

    If these purveyors of gobsmacking intellectual dishonesty (If Buffett's secretary really did pay a higher tax rate, then why in Hades didn't he find her a better accountant?) think those of us living in the real world will support our tax dollars aiding them in any way, they are again mistaken.

  • Number 7||

    don't worry. In 2021 President Warren will declare these institutions too big to fail and send huge hunks of cash to them.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Good one. A socialist president. Haha.

  • DesigNate||

    I can't believe shriek isn't in here defending that most staunch and classically liberal businessman Warren Buffett.

    Funny that.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    Who could have known that an industry filled with multiple labor unions would turn out to be unprofitable?

  • tlapp||

    They bought into a dying industry just so they could have a forum to spread their opinion. They are the big boys and they need to be allowed to take their lumps when they make bad decisions.

    Not only that but Newspapers? Whey didn't we just bring back the pony express? Electronic news, faster more timely, no trees cut down, no paper to recycle, no trucks to deliver them. Faster, better, cheaper, less resources used. You would especially have expected a tech guy like Bezos to understand.

  • Red Rocks Baiting n Inciting||

    Bezos probably figured that because he's run a business for 20 years now that's rarely made a profit, he'd just apply his "keep the business propped up with stock purchases" model to newspapers too.

  • Johnny B||

    Is Bezos' left eye always bigger than his right eye?

  • JFDeplorable||

    "Or, as the Times quoted Chavern, "If you want a free news model, you will get news…But it will be garbage news." Um, it seems that the quality of "traditional" news is also garbage. The average person can see through the heavily agendized propaganda, which is why the whole "fake news" meme came into being. As for a government bailout, fuggitaboudit. The news industry is NOT a life-or-death issue. People are clearly living without the New York Times and the Washington Post. Advertisers fled the print newspaper scene several years ago, opting for lower cost, more timely digital advertising venues. All three of these geniuses invested in a dying industry. Too bad, so sad, but they need to just suck it up and take their losses.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Bezos, Slim, Buffett......
    SCREW YOU!

  • Africanis||

    I am saddened by all the hateful racist bigoted comments here, these men who need the bailout are minorities! There are only an estimate 1800 billionaires in the whole world. You girls and boys go turn your face to the corner and think about what you posted here! *smirk*

  • Davulek||

    Long, long ago. In a ghetto far, far away. There were 2 newspapers: the Detroit News (conservative) and the Detroit Free Press (liberal).
    Their business collectively sucked so bad that way back in 1987 they had to have a merger to stay alive.
    Fast forward to recent times. The place where the majority of their biggest addition is sold, the Sunday edition, is at the local Dollar Tree stores at a 50% reduced price of $1. Nobody even buys that anymore, except for the coupons, LOL!
    In a case of utter embarrassment, on Thanksgiving they shipped the huge "Black Friday" edition to the local Dollar Tree stores and wanted them to charge $2 each for them. Dollar Tree rejected the shipments at all their stores!
    That children, is how dumb the Detroit Newspapers are. They tried to sell something for $2 at a store that is WIDELY known for having everything in it's store priced at $1.

  • Eman||

    "The bezos-slim-buffet front" was my nickname in college?

  • ||

    Long live whatever Laissez-faire we have left in this country! And Viva to the media journalist that doesn't know what national anthem is to his/her country! I'm just trying to be nice!

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