The clumsy dance of Tribune and Gannett

Posted by Mitchell - June 4, 2016 (entry 717)

So this recently happened: One of our local media potentates, Tribune Publishing -- the printing arm of the previously vaunted that filed the biggest media bankruptcy in American history and was cleaved in two and which just renamed itself with the worst name in corporate history -- faced a buyout attempt by another newspaper conglomerate, Gannett, for $815 million.

Compared to some media mergers in recent vintage, this is chump change. Comcast bought out NBC Universal for $28 billion; heck, Facebook bought out Whatsapp -- the mobile messenger service with a grand total of 55 employees -- for $19 billion. But a buyout of a chain with newspapers in Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, and San Diego, among other places, can't even get a measly billion? Please.

Little wonder that the Tribune Publishing board unanimously rejected the bid. So, Gannett came back and made a higher offer, adding $50 million to the pot. Tribune rejected that too. The dance is quickly devolving into a farce.

This back-and-forth may go on for a while, but in the meantime, there's little discussion is had regarding the concentration of media and the impacts of this more widely. But the point needs to be reemphasized: "Even in the face of the digital communications revolution, a large quantity of the informational content on the web is simply repackaged and redistributed from existing media, including 'the dinosaurs' of newspapers, radio and broadcast television."

It also bears repeating that the Tribune as well as Gannett have a sordid history of warping its glorified place for its benefit. Just desserts, I suppose, but it's not reason to be complacent. We have seen in the past that corporate demons can be defeated only to see worse demons take their place.

At the same time, the internet is eroding the commercial subsidy that had bankrolled journalism for more than a century. This is leading to renewed calls for a mass non-profit mandate to subsidize journalism in the wake of commercial abandonment. Hopefully, such a renewal can help fulfill the promise of journalism encapsulated in this quote: "News is something someone wants suppressed. All else is just advertising."

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