A Noose Around the News

Mainstream media, reduced at least to the level of local newspapers, has placed a noose around the neck of our news. Rather than opening a vast panorama of choice, in the same vein as the Internet, local newspapers often constrict our news horizon. Consider the national web of smaller, corporate-owned papers: apart from sports, many lift news stories, and often truncate them, from either the wire or a company home office source. Your hometown paper, in other words, might be entirely from someplace else.

Recently, for example, the 105-year-old Porterville Recorder was sold to the privately owned Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers, Inc. for an undisclosed sum. The previous owner, Santa Ana-based Freedom Communications, also purchased Arizona’s Yuma Sun. Even more so than McClatchy’s 30 dailies and Gannett’s combination of at least 1,090 weekly and daily newspapers, these smaller transactions should bring into sharper focus the question not only of who owns the hometown paper, but how its reporting is conducted, and under what editorial slant. How do you get the local angle on any story if you cannot first trust that your newspaper is locally owned?

Never has this been writ quite so large as the brothers Charles and David Koch, billionaire industrialists and famous Libertarians, new interest in purchasing the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant. The papers, valued at approximately $623 million, would be pocket change for Koch Industries, a private company with annual revenues of roughly $115 billion. Politically speaking, these newspapers could serve to broaden the voice of the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideology. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country, Chicago’s Tribune is the ninth, and others are in battleground states. Included in the deal is Fort Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel, which, with the Orlando daily, are two of Florida’s largest newspapers. In the past few election cycles Florida has been perhaps the most fought-over battleground state. Further, the Kochs’ purchase could include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily that is influential among the key Hispanic demographic.

Charles and David Koch’s lifelong ambition is to diminish the size of government; their private company, Koch Industries, is dedicated to the proposition that all Libertarian causes are created equally. Think of the financing of policy think tanks such as the Cato Institute in Washington, and the creation of Americans for Prosperity, a political action group that helped ignite the Tea Party. Koch Industries has denied any direct tie to the Tea Party. But this isn’t about any particular people or their party affiliations: this is about hometown news being taken out of hometown hands.

In politically liberal Los Angeles, at least, this could be a hard sell. Should Angelenos have to contend with what might amount to a foreign newspaper? What begins to emerge is not so much a newspaper fitting its community, which might be reduced to the serendipitous, but the spread of ideology as background noise in key places and demographics all over the country. This is how, in cities and small towns, influence is sown so as to make the grass root seem homegrown. This is how, beholden to outside interests, local news finds its neck in a noose.

I am proud to say that the Valley Voice will grind no axe other than the factual, and that it will use this tool to sever the noose. Both my wife and I own this newspaper. She was born in Tulare County. We have raised children here. These pages will contain what I expect my friends, children and their friends demand: the Local Truth.

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