The core idea of the “civic commons” is that we are a self-governing people, capable of creating and sustaining a society based on common good. A noble aspiration!
But achieving it requires a basic level of community-wide communication — a reliable resource that digs out and shares truths so people know enough about what’s going on to be self-governing. This is the role Americans have long expected their local and regional newspapers to play — papers that are not merely in our communities, but of, by, and for them.
Of course, being profit-seeking entities, papers have commonly (and often infamously) fallen far short of their noble democratic purpose. Overall, though, a town’s daily (or, better yet, two or more dailies) makes for a more robust civic life by devoting journalistic resources to truth telling.
Local ownership matters, as some 1,500 of our towns have learned after Wall Street demigods have swept in without warning to seize their paper, gut its journalistic mission, and devour its assets.
For example, Digital First, a huge private-equity profiteer, snatched the St. Paul Pioneer Press and, demanding a ridiculous 25 percent profit margin from its purchase, stripped the newsroom staff from a high of 225 journalists to 25!
As the Prospect’s Robert Kuttner reported, these tyrannical private equity firms produce nothing but profits for faraway speculators.
He notes that the blandly named entities only exist “thanks to three loopholes in the law.” The first lets them operate in the dark; the second provides an unlimited tax deduction for the massive amounts of money they borrow to buy up newspapers; and the third allows them to profit by intentionally bankrupting the paper they take over.
Our right to a free press is meaningless if Wall Street thieves destroy our communities’ presses. The good news is that many enterprising people are devising ways to rescue their newspapers. For more information, go to dfmworkers.org.
Originally published by Otherwords.org