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The Almighty Buck News

Online Journalism Is Becoming a Billionaires' Plaything (Again) 143

Posted by samzenpus
from the use-it-or-lose-it dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "In the 1941 film Citizen Kane, the titular newspaper magnate (played with cheeky insouciance by Orson Welles) gleefully tells a doubter that he's prepared to lose a million dollars every year in order to keep publishing. "At a rate of a million dollars a year," he smirks, "I'll have to close this place in 60 years." Over the past decade, of course, many newspapers and magazines have lost a lot more than a million dollars a year, and there are signs that online publications are having trouble holding their finances together, as well. But some very rich people are stepping in to prop things up: first Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million, then eBay founder Pierre Omidyar offered journalist Glenn Greenwald a whole lot of cash to start up a general interest publication. Billionaires and multimillionaires, of course, have total freedom to fund whatever they want—and that could be a good thing for publications with a mission and a serious need for cash. But what if the rich investor disagrees with something that his pet publication releases into the world? If (and when) that situation occurs, it could serve as an interesting test of whether the latest version of this "generous benefactor" model can work more effectively as an impartial channel for news than it has in the past (when conflicts of interest often sparked titanic fights between editors and owners)."
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Online Journalism Is Becoming a Billionaires' Plaything (Again)

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  • Aaarrgh (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by nospam007 (722110) *

    Rosebud...

  • by VMaN (164134) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @06:16AM (#45150949) Homepage

    Ok, who didn't have to lookup that word?

    • by nospam007 (722110) * on Thursday October 17, 2013 @06:26AM (#45150979)

      "insouciance"

      "Ok, who didn't have to lookup that word?"

      Tens of millions of French speaking people additional to a couple of hundred million English speaking ones.

      • \o/ Dans mes bras ! \o/

    • Moi !

    • I browse at -1 with a dictionary and pronunciation window open. For me, hanging out with smart people is the best way to keep my mind open and learning.
  • more of the same (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gravis Zero (934156) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @06:22AM (#45150965)

    this has happened in all sectors of our emerging dystopia. the media was the first to go. the endgame of controlling information is to control everything. unless you have someone with good intentions at the helm, this is simply a step in a conquest of dominance. it's like the dark ages but with lawyers instead of soldiers.

    • Well, what do you expect when the media turned on its heel in 2009 and became solidly pro-government? To the extent that they refuse to investigate the administration even when crimes are clearly being committed? All because they're simpatico with the political leanings of the President. Disgraceful, eh?
      • Re:more of the same (Score:4, Informative)

        by ebno-10db (1459097) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @12:03PM (#45153667)

        Well, what do you expect when the media turned on its heel in 2009 and became solidly pro-government? ... All because they're simpatico with the political leanings of the President.

        What is it about rightists that so many suffer from the victim complex that they accuse liberals of? Talk about projection [wikipedia.org].

        Remember all those in the media who were originally skeptical of Bush's rationale for the Iraq war? Me neither. I do remember Judith Miller, of the supposedly liberal NYT, acting as little more than a mouthpiece for the administration.

  • by Quakeulf (2650167) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @06:31AM (#45150993)
    • I hate it when truth, rather than be stranger than fiction, makes fiction stop feeling so fictitious.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Haven't media enterprises always been owned by some rich guy/group?
    The only difference now is that more people can get in the game, as the Internet provides for more channels.
    Old channels are regulated by the state, so we can only expect the level of censorship and manipulation to be higher.

    Mainstream media has been a combination of reality show and bullshit for decades now. It can only get better.

    • It can only get better.

      Godsdamnit AC :/ Journalists the world over are saying "challenge accepted".

  • by ehack (115197) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @06:36AM (#45151005) Journal

    The freedom of the press belongs to the owner of the press.

    • Which makes network neutrality all the more precious. Without it then you can set up your own server but the packets go nowhere.

      Every effort has to be made to allow the individual to be heard somehow.

  • by nimbius (983462) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @06:36AM (#45151007) Homepage

    Billionaires and multimillionaires, of course, have total freedom to fund whatever they wantâ"and that could be a good thing for publications with a mission and a serious need for cash.

    in the late 19th century and into the beginnings of the 20th century america and england had epidemic problems with the 'well to do' financing newspapers. it took investigative journalists that didnt care about the advertisers or the backers to correct this.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muckraker [wikipedia.org]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_American_newspapers#The_press_in_the_Party_System:_1820.E2.80.931890 [wikipedia.org]
    the difference being todays muckrakers have the internet. its much harder, although not impossible, to silence a glen greenwald or a julian assange if they so choose to expose your corruption. plutocratically controlled news is an important thing to have when voters are striking for fair minimum wage, protesting your banks in occupy camps, and largely backing healthcare and prison reforms that would undermine your system of creating intentional strife within parties or groups of people to further advance your cause.

    • by sabbede (2678435)
      Hey, be careful, that's an awfully broad brush you're painting with. Don't forget, Benjamin Franklin was a wealthy media mogul. And following him was a time when people would start newspapers just to slander their political opponents...

      ...which I guess we have kind of come back to. (I'm looking at you Drudge and KOS).

      I guess that I'm not just going to assume nefarious intent just because somebody is wealthy.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      the difference being todays muckrakers have the internet. its much harder, although not impossible, to silence a glen greenwald or a julian assange if they so choose to expose your corruption.

      But if they do, so what? Have people gone to jail over what Wikileaks revealed? Have people gone to jail over what Snowden revealed? People are in trouble over exposed corruption, but they're not the corrupt but the whistleblowers.

      In this situation, does investigative journalism actually matter at all? Investigate all

  • by blahplusplus (757119) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @06:42AM (#45151039)

    .. always bends to business or advertisers. At this point I'd like (I know it's unrealistic) to have a news organization that's totally funded by the public via central bank and they have a bottomless well of money to spend in case of political emergency (aka build it into the system) that's run by the sanest citizens. They are picked for their sanity and respect for the truth. People who accept science, aren't easily fooled by left/right ideology, understand that societies have to change in accordance with what is true about the universe, even if that up-ends the status quo. We have people trying to cling to 19th century ideologies in a world where technology is fast making human elements unprofitable over the long term.

    News sucks so bad because most people are just too scared or too sheepish to actually call out the corporate system on its bullshit because they depend on that very system for survival, too many people are easily manipulated by the threats of loss of income, relationships and status.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SuricouRaven (1897204)

      Such organisation would still have to keep happy the politicians who decide to allocate the money.

      A better solution is to have everything: Government-funded news, privately sponsored news, advertiser-funded news, volunteer-operated enthusiast news. All biased, but in different directions, and constantly fact-checking each other.

      • "Such organisation would still have to keep happy the politicians who decide to allocate the money."

        It wouldn't be run by elected officials, it would be run based on genetic and other scientific assessments of the persons thought and worldview. Tests for sanity. hence I said 'sanity' being #1. There are people who are nearly bias free and have penetrating insights into mankind and society at large. Bias has little to do with survival. We know enough about the world to know when we are threatening our o

    • by smpoole7 (1467717)

      > .. always bends to business or advertisers.

      Exactly. I work in the media (radio), and you'd better believe it. But it doesn't only happen with "rich guys." (Or "gals.)

      The classic example is that of a small local newspaper. The largest advertiser's son is arrested for drunk driving. The advertiser calls the paper and says, "please don't run that story." What does the paper do? If it agrees, it has compromised. If it doesn't, though, it loses its largest advertiser and (this example is based on a true sto

      • Politiclowns are the LEAST informed and the most swayed by public opinion. Now add in the fact that they earnestly want to *shape* public opinion, and you'll see what I don't believe anything emitted by a government organ.

        Because everybody who works for the government is a 'politiclown'. All humans are and will be (for the time being) fallible and prone to corruption, which is why the design of the system should mitigate that. Separation of powers, transparent evaluation processes, etc.

        The big difference with private corporations is that citizens can and should demand openness about how public processes take place and that 'regulations' for the government aren't seen as evil economy and freedom-killing blasphemy by half the

      • by nbauman (624611) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @10:18AM (#45152523) Homepage Journal

        > .. always bends to business or advertisers.

        Exactly. I work in the media (radio), and you'd better believe it. But it doesn't only happen with "rich guys." (Or "gals.)

        The classic example is that of a small local newspaper. The largest advertiser's son is arrested for drunk driving. The advertiser calls the paper and says, "please don't run that story." What does the paper do? If it agrees, it has compromised. If it doesn't, though, it loses its largest advertiser and (this example is based on a true story, can't remember the details now) goes out of business.

        Classic example is Ms. magazine. Most of their advertising came from cigarettes. They ran stories about every cancer except lung cancer, every women's health problem except lung disease. An ad in Ms. magazine meant that their advertising acceptability department had approved it. Ms. was saying it was acceptable, even fashionable. They helped addict a generation of teenage girls to nicotine, and you can see it in the death rates in women from lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and strokes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sabbede (2678435)
      Well, NPR is pretty darn close to what you're talking about. There's also the BBC.

      But how do you get around the problem of a media outlet becoming an organ of the state? There is an unavoidable risk that news reporting will become beholden to whomever controls the purse strings. But the more of them there are competing for advertising revenue, the less it costs to advertise with them. The broader the base of financial support, the harder it is to become beholden to any one source.

      Of course, the the

      • by arcite (661011)
        The BBC has had their fair share of scandals over the years, but their independence from the government and organizational structure has allowed them to largely adapt and repair their reputation.
      • by Urza9814 (883915)

        BBC, RT, NPR, and AJE. Major networks of competing governments (Well, AJE isn't government, but still ideologically competitive). RT for example is funded by the Russian government. And the Russian government frequently wants to make the American government look bad, so they'll report the scandals that our media won't touch.

        Of course you need to remember their angle too. NPR and sometimes the BBC will downplay any US scandal while RT and possibly AJE will jump to exaggerate it. Pick some sane middle ground

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nbauman (624611)

      .. always bends to business or advertisers.

      That's the general rule, but the exceptions are even more interesting. (And the exceptions are the ones that I read.)

      Before Rupert Murdoch took it over, the Wall Street Journal was my choice for the best source of general news in the English language. The paper was very profitable and had a wide advertising base, so it wasn't dependent on any single advertiser. They were owned by a family, the Bancrofts, that were quite liberal, hired good journalists to run the paper, and left them alone, except when they

    • Brilliant! Let's build it. I get to pick the 'sane citizens.'

  • by The Cat (19816) *

    Since the Internet has failed to realize its goal of making it possible for the little guy to be on an even playing field with the large companies, I would say that it's par for the course that the rich people will take over.

    The promise of open standards and democratic information have been destroyed with the enthusiastic participation of the very people who told us open standards were the way forward. E-mail has been abandoned for Twitter. The web has been abandoned for Facebook and the PC has been aband

    • And it will be your fault.

      While the general contempt being spat in the above post is rather direction-less, I feel that this statement at least is accurate. It is "our" (collective computerdom's) fault that the internet is being turned into a giant walled garden surrounded by watch towers.

      The web needed technologies that put decentralisation, anonymity, and encryption into the hands of every single user by default. That never happened. It never happened because hackers did not
      a) Write such software, or writ

      • It's easy to blame "us" for not writing these things, but that's an oversimplification. The security and privacy features you describe are decidedly non-trivial to implement, it's not generally something that works well as a weekend/hobby project. And no one wanted to pay us to implement them.

        And I'm not referring to the corporate overlords (who have a vested interest in the end user *not* having access to them) or the government (ditto). I mean every end user who, up until the recent shitstorm, dismissed t

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      Web 2.0 is no worse than web 1.0. It's as crappy or as worthwhile as you make it. Do you really think the average Geocities site was any better than the average Facebook feed?

      Latest posts on my Facebook feed:
      "Florida man sets self on fire while setting up burning cross display"
      "NSA Director admits he lied about phone surveillance"
      "Rooftop Revolutionaries Fighting the Escapism Generation"
      A picture of my friend's dog
      A petition asking Obama to pardon Manning
      "US Eases Regulations on Exporting Weapons"
      A link to

    • Since the Internet has failed to realize its goal of making it possible for the little guy to be on an even playing field with the large companies, I would say that it's par for the course that the rich people will take over.

      The promise of open standards and democratic information have been destroyed with the enthusiastic participation of the very people who told us open standards were the way forward. E-mail has been abandoned for Twitter. The web has been abandoned for Facebook and the PC has been abandoned for the iPhone. And you love it.

      This all happened after the U.S. high tech industry was strangled and dumped in a drainage ditch naked in 2000 and the space program was raped and left for dead somewhere in northern Asia.

      It's too late to cry about it now. You got exactly what you wanted, and every step of the way when people pointed out we were on the wrong path you shouted them down with your smartass memes and your neckbearded atheist-habit self-assurance you are the smartest people in the world.

      In ten years the Internet will be destroyed completely, and since there is nobody left under the age of 50 with an attention span longer than ten seconds the people who lose it won't have any idea what the hell happened.

      And it will be your fault.

      You had me until "... athiest". What the fuck does athiesm have to do with it?

  • I'm not even talking about the historic examples of a century ago. Robert Murdock anyone?

    • Murdock is a reliable corporatist, so he's considered mostly-harmless. I've been following @pierre for a while on Twitter - he's really pissed about the NSA scandal and has the money to draw attention to his concerns.

      That's why we're seeing toady stories today bemoaning Rosebud - his reputation needs to be damaged in the court of public opinion, so that the real people who control the press can go about their business.

  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @07:19AM (#45151149)
    You needn't go back to Charles Foster Kane or the William Randolph Hearsts of the world he was meant to represent. This kind of thing never went away (vide Rupert Murdoch [wikipedia.org] or Ted Turner [wikipedia.org]). The main difference between a Bezos and a Murdoch is that Bezos made his fortune indiscriminately selling books filled with insight, entertainment, truth, facts or lies, while Murdoch was much more discriminate in peddling lies.
  • But what if the rich investor disagrees with something that his pet publication releases into the world?

    It is much more about the content, in *all* cases where a billionaire takes over, becoming poorer and poorer. Why ? Because the billionaire has become a billionaire by earning ( lots of ) money, and is 100% geared toward .... earning money. The only way to do that, with media, in our dystopian world, is by advertising. Advertising only works well if and when the media carrying the ads reach a large public. A large public can only be reached by rendering content poorer: shallower, shorter, simpler.

    And that is how it works and has worked, e.g. for the ( prime example ! ) French "quality newspaper" Le Monde. Up to the beginning of the '90s, that newspaper was owned by private investors, philantropists actually, who knew that producing a quality newspaper costs money, more than that same newspaper can bring in. But then, some time in the '90s, Le Monde was taken over by rich investors. The result: from the stern, photo-less format for which it was famous, from great heights of linguistic refinement and from immense depths of understanding and background articles, Le Monde went to... well, pretty much the same format as other large-public newspapers: advertisements everywhere, shallow articles dealing with the craze and the hype of the day. If even Le Monde could not do it, I do not see how any other serious media can do it, whether they be newspaper, tv programme, radio - you name it.

    Conclusion: any take-over of traditional media by billionaires is bad news. Bad news for the public at large. Bad news for the employed, conscientious journalists and reporters. Bad news for the "third power" that media have come to be in our ramshackle democracies. Bad news for all.

    • But what if the rich investor^^W^WRupert Murdoch disagrees with something that his pet publication^W^W^W Fox News releases into the world?

      Or let's go further back, since we're referencing Citizen Kane: How about Randolph ("Reefer Madness/Remember the Maine!") Hearst?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm confused by your post. What is the difference between rich "private investors, philantropists actually" and "rich investors"? If a rich guy buys a newspaper knowing it will lose money, how can you tell if he is a philanthropist before seeing the results?

  • In the past century selling copies was a common method of financing; the entire book ecosystem is built around this concept. Similar is the movie ecosystem, which sold views until DVD's came along.

    Recently the Internet has exploited the advertising method of financing. Newspapers and magazines have relied on this for decades.

    RIch investors are not a new invention - it goes back thousands of years. This was how The Old Testament was paid for. Today nobody would know about Abraham except for the fellow
  • by Quinn_Inuit (760445) <Quinn_Inuit@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday October 17, 2013 @07:31AM (#45151201)
    Why am I supposed to worry about Jeff Bezos having more of an effect on the editorial direction of the WaPo than I am on, say, Disney affecting the editorial direction of ABC News (or Gannett, if you want to stick with print)? The only difference that I can see is that the latter is answerable to shareholders and so might tolerate fewer losses on the business. IMO, this horse was out of the barn years ago, and the nouveau riche* are the "same as the old boss" at this point.

    *Sorry, I couldn't resist.
  • Washington Post (Score:5, Informative)

    by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @07:35AM (#45151223)
    I wouldn't hold my breath over the Post launching an in-depth investigation into Amazon's contracts with the CIA, for example. More to the point, Bezos won't even have to say a word; even the dimmest editor knows which side of the bread his butter lies. Kinda like Russia Today's coverage about the treatment of the LGBT communities in that country is a bit... light. Or Al Jazeera's reportage on the practical enslavement of south pacific workers in the Middle East. Lesson: never single-source.
  • The question posed in the summary is moot. It's obvious that, say for example, the Washington Post won't publish anything that upsets Bezos (like a favorable Nook review).

    Paid-for journalism is nothing new. It's just been exacerbated by the rise of the WWW.
  • In my (limited but non-zero) direct experience, billionaires are dangerous, since they tend to go outside their areas of competence, since everyone assumes that they know what they are doing, and since (at least in the United States) very few people will speak up when they are wrong.

  • For chrissake, there has never been a day since the birth of humankind where journalism has been impartial. Right now, the powers that be seem to be changing hands, and so all the old partialities are falling to the new ones. Maybe the old minions are whining about impartiality, but in practice they are really just whineing that their partiality is being subbed out for somebody elses.

    • by cellocgw (617879)

      For chrissake, there has never been a day since the birth of humankind where journalism has been impartial

      Yeah, some "top ten list" of rules inscribed on tablets comes to mind //rim shot

  • You print something the owner of your publication or one of their major advertisers doesn't like, you get fired. Pure and simple. Just look at Fox (e.g. "Faux") News to see that. They outright distort the facts and lie to push their employer's agenda. Murkdock pays them well to look like fools and idiots--but there are greater fools and idiots who fall for that crap.

    On the other hand, publications have soared to extraordinary heights in public opinion when reporters break earthshaking, investigative reports

  • Just looking at three of the leading newspapers in the U.S. (if not the world):

    * The NY Times has long been owned by the Sulzbergers for over a century
    * The Washington Post was owned by (or just controlled by?) the Grahams until Bezos bought it
    * The Wall Street Journal was owned by the Bancroft family for over a century until News Corp. (Rupert Murdoch's company) bought it.

    The fourth leading US newspaper, USA Today, was founded and is owned by Gannett, a leading owner of local media.

  • by DarthVain (724186) on Thursday October 17, 2013 @12:33PM (#45154001)

    Many claim that government wants a dumb population that is easily controlled. Things that point to this is how people vote depending on their situation and what they are willing to accept as fact.

    The truth is, corporations have owned government for some time now, and it is in their best interest (or the elite that own the corporations), to have a dumb population, that are willing to accept certain things as fact, usually despite their situation. This allows them to sponsor and get elected people who are malleable their cause, which can be summarized as: Keep as much wealth as possible or become even more wealthy. It also allows them to control political situations events by building a base to which a politician will need.

    Many networks/publications are already nothing more than simple propaganda machines trying to spit our their masters will onto the populace as fast as they can vomit it out. It is all a bunch of billionaires looking after their own interests, and liberal or conservative, they both share one thing in common and that is they are massively wealthy and want to stay that way, and want more. This is just another tool in the tool box to that end.

    • The wealthy have always owned the state... starting with Washington, Adams, and Jefferson (and the King before them). The state was created by and for the wealthy so that they could control the rest of the population (whether they be slaves or rednecks). The expansion of the franchise has only produced a superficial change -- the core dynamic has remained unchanged. The state is a system that enables a small fraction of the population to control the rest.

  • How is the ownership of the Washington Post by Bezos any different than the past? Most major US newspapers have always been owned and controlled by a small handful of influential families. The Meyer and Graham families have traditionally owned and directly controlled the Post for most of its history (in addition to a whole slate of other interests like Kaplan and Slate), and those families have been active in the reporting and management of the newspaper. The New York Times for example has been owned by
  • The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review follows exactly this model. It was revived by Richard Mellon Scaife (a dual trust-fund baby who also bankrolled the character assassination of President Bill Clinton) as a conservative alternative to the Post-Gazette. According to Scaife's divorce records, he continued to dump tons of money into this well after the newspaper had captured a sizable market. I think (and hope) that everyone in Pittsburgh is fully aware that the only reason this newspaper exists is to spout conserv

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