How Newspaper Owners Self-Sabotage  

A blog about business and economics.
March 25 2013 9:47 AM

Do Local Newspaper Owners Want to Succeed?

Washington Examiner for March 25

A striking counterpoint to my contention that the glory days of American journalism are happening right now is that the local startup weekday paper, the Washington Examiner, announced last week that it's canceling its local coverage and is going to become a weekly political magazine. Their local staff did some fine work, and I'm sad about this. But look at the cover I found lying around a Starbucks this morning and I think you can see why this is in many ways a poor test.

The correct word choice around unauthorized immigration to the United States is, of course, politically contested in the United States. I like to refer to unauthorized immigration or migration because I think it's correct. Talk about undocumented immigrants seems euphemistic, like they just lost their paperwork. Talk of illegal immigrants carries with it inaccurate implication about the actual legal framework of immigration. But referring to human beings as illegals is just plain offensive. Legally speaking, you're only allowed to drive so fast. Lots of people nonetheless regularly drive faster than that. Referring to such people as illegals as if their proclivity for violating vehicle speed ordinances is a good way of capturing their essential nature would be absurd. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that speeding kills innocent people regularly while the only lives risked in unauthorized border crossings are those of the migrants themselves.

End of sermon.


Point is, the Washington Examiner was trying to serve one of the most liberal areas of the country. Obama got 90 percent of the vote in D.C. and 90 percent in nearby Prince George's County, Md. He got about 70 percent in Alexandria, Va., and Montgomery County, Md., and Arlington, Va. There's no sound business reason for a paper serving this area to use coded conservative political language. But the owner of the paper is, personally, a political conservative. And one of his motivations for launching it was to inject more conservative politics into the local media scene. He very much succeeded in doing that, which is fine. But it didn't work as a business plan, which should be no surprise to anyone. Ideologically slanted news coverage that's subsidized by motivated owners has a long history in the United States. There are currently rumors that the Koch brothers might take over the Los Angeles Times and run it on that model. But people who want to run a paper that deliberately cuts against the local ideological grain and make lots of money for their trouble are going to have a problem.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


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