Bravo and good luck to Denver Post journalists for trying to save the venerable newspaper from its cannibalistic venture-capital owners.
They need so much more than luck. They need you. All newspapers do.
Denver Post Editorial Page Editor Chuck Plunkett this weekend published a virtual employee manifesto, calling out corporate owner Digital First Media for its irresponsible stewardship of the Post. Digital First owns numerous large newspapers across the country, including the Orange County Register and San Jose Mercury News.
Digital First, however, is held by Alden Global Capital venture capitalists, a group of clearly greedy and reckless hedge fund operatives that a courageous Plunkett accurately refers to in his editorial as “vulture capitalists.” They, however, call the shots.
Recent stories by journalists from Digital First properties have revealed that after years of squeezing the fiscal blood out of its holdings by endless cutbacks of all kinds, Alden has taken the proceeds and invested them in what amount to risky get-rich quick schemes in a sorry effort to get richer faster.
The Post editorial prompted an expected round of sympathetic, sanctimonious and pragmatic commentary. It even made Page One of the Sunday New York Times.
On local social media and the editorial’s comment section, some wags pointed out the heartless reality of U.S. commerce: It’s Alden’s company and their decision to run the paper any way they like, including into the ground.
These people miss the point. Newspapers are both simultaneously businesses and something very different than that. The fact is inescapable that newspapers, like all businesses, must have revenues exceed expenditures, or they are no longer businesses. They’re hobbies.
But unlike a toy store or a sign shop, newspapers are community assets that fall along the same lines as hospitals, banks and insurance companies. If you balk at that, you don’t understand how crucial real journalism is to American government, liberty and industry. You’ll find scores of respected and intelligent Americans across the political spectrum who fervently believe that. It’s what the First Amendment is all about.
While it might have been easier to see that connection before the age of the Internet, when newspapers were virtually the sole source of detailed information and advertising, newspapers’ role in American society have never been more crucial.
You have only to look at the President’s Twitter feed, your own Facebook pages or scroll through today’s “editions” of Huffington Post, Breitbart News, Fox News, the Drudge Report or The Daily KOS to understand how critical it is to have a reputable, accountable newspaper staffed with journalists dedicated to the cause of their craft, and not the cause of Democrats, Republicans, teachers, oil companies, health insurance providers, unions, governors, city council reps, police, vegetarians or football team owners.
No kidding here, professional and experienced journalists are some of the smartest, most educated people you’ll ever know. It’s because the job is intellectually, physically and emotionally demanding. Those who can’t cut it don’t. Newsrooms are often made up of people who both understand the nuance of billion-dollar tax and bond deals, why highways must be graded the way they are, how arcane legislative procedures affect the outcome of lawmaking and how different microorganisms affect the taste of craft beer.
It would be foolish to think that people who study everything so diligently and so frequently would be without opinions on not just things that matter, but pretty much everything. They are smart, savvy and dedicated enough to always strive for accurate, objective and fair coverage.
But there is a war being far by far-right politicians and pundits right now trying to muddy reality and reason with their political bent. President Donald Trump has unleashed a tsunami of propaganda and lies on Americans, and there are a growing number of people who believe that Trump’s War on Journalism is a battle they think they, too, can win for their own pursuits.
The Denver Post, and every tried and true newspaper in Colorado and across the country are the only anchors America has while people are being assaulted with endless waves of political madness. A small but relentless faction of right-wing extremists hammer at the Post and other newspapers, saying they are vast left-wing machines.
They say that because the mainstream media continues to point out Trump’s endless string of lies and obvious misdirections. Critics say that’s unfair. They say that because mainstream media in Colorado continue to focus on how the Colorado Legislature handles or mishandles sexual harassment scandals, bills that would legalize brainwashing gay people or how we label people who live here as “legal” or “illegal” as proof of the media’s allegiance to Democrats. Critics say that because newspapers call out racism for what it is, rather than treat it as just a alternative opinion, we are in the back pocket of the far left.
It’s total bull. These critics purposely confuse subjectivity with stupidity and naiveté. Just because President Trump says more people watched his inauguration than any other, that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote because of fraud, that Michael Flynn did nothing wrong, and that Russian election interference is fake news, it doesn’t mean the media should or would treat it as just a difference of opinion. It’s not. It’s a lie.
When officials of any kind purvey blatant, obvious and provable lies, the media would be nothing more than the echo-chamber propaganda machines they work endlessly to expose if reporters stipulated everything they’re told. Opinions based on facts are debatable. The facts are not. Both Democrats and Republicans twist and bend the truth for their own purposes. But Trump and a growing army of right-wing extremists purposely and maliciously lie, and it’s dangerous.
It’s especially dangerous when newspapers like the Denver Post don’t have the resources to set the record straight on controversies and do the daily, vital job of professionally and reliably telling people what’s really going on in their world. They are imperfect, but unlike any other media, newspapers are focused on setting the record straight, even when they are at fault.
In a better world, readers and non-readers in Colorado would rally to the Post and all newspapers, subscribing, clicking, supporting advertisers, and buying ads.
In the real world, the best we can hope for right now is that readers, journalists at the Post and enlightened state and industry officials will pressure Digital First Media to sell the paper to a responsible owner.
Because the newspaper financial model is tenuous and a majority of the public distracted or disinterested, the future looks bleak.
It’s really not up to the employees or owners of the Post. It’s up to all of you.
Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]