Monday, May 28, 2007

OWNERSHIP: Would newspapers benefit if readers owned them? from Greenslade

This column on today's Guardian site takes off on Chris Daly's post which about co-operative ownership of news organizations. If you open up this original URL, it has several links within it.

-- bill

Guardian Unlimited

Monday May 28 2007

Would newspapers benefit if readers owned them?

By Roy Greenslade
The Guardian of London

A journalism academic believes he has the answer to the current US newspaper ownership crisis: form readership co-operatives. Boston University journalism professor Chris Daly argues his case in some detail on his blog. He begins by asking whether who owns papers, and how they own them, makes much difference to the journalism. His answer: of course it does.

Pointing to the unrest among the New York Times's investors about the company's stagnant share price and to the pressure on the Wall Street Journal's owners to sell out (to Rupert Murdoch), he writes:

"What both of these valuable news operations need is essentially the same thing: a way to keep ownership in the hands of people who really care about journalism and to insulate themselves from ever being controlled by someone with a different motive. What they need, in short, is a new form of

That "new form" is "the existing subscriber base of both newspapers... a precious asset... that is not realising its full potential." So Daly suggests that the current owners of both papers "should take a cue from public broadcasting and launch a 'pledge drive' the likes of which no one has ever seen. Instead of just sending money, the subscribers could be enlisted to buy stock."

Fine in theory, but could it work in practice? According to Daly's "back-of-the-envelope calculations" it could. He has done some sums which suggest that if a million Times subscribers purchased stock worth $2,000 (£1,000) they could buy up a majority stake in the company. And ditto for the Journal.

He concludes: "If those of us who are serious about serious journalism would step up and become part-owners, we could do it... Any buyers?"

I recall that Robert Maxwell had a somewhat similar idea in 1991 when he decided to float the Mirror group by urging readers to buy shares. His appeal failed for all sorts of reasons. For example, the use of the Andy Capp cartoon character was inappropriate. But the main factors were that Mirror readers either lacked the cash or didn't trust Maxwell, or both. The Sulzbergers and the Bancrofts have much better reputations. Their readers are better off, and are more sympathetic to stock market investment than the Mirror's readership would have been. So there may be merit in Daly's thoughtful idea.


Posted by AndrewGA on May 28, 2007 10:59 AM:

The Bristol Evening Post - "the paper all Bristol asked for and helped to create" - was born out of local dissatisfaction when the newspaper war between Harmsworth and Northcliffe resulted in closure of the much-loved Times and Mirror. A leader in the first edition of the Post said: "Being owned, directed and produced by men of the West - the vast proportion of them born and bred in Bristol - we believe no one can rightly claim that he or she should be able to appreciate and share so entirely the feelings, aspirations and desires of our fellow citizens or so thoroughly supply their needs".

So, yes, local ownership can work, although big business usually gets its way in the end. The Post became a part of the Northcliffe group.

Posted by jonthemilk on May 28, 2007 11:01 AM:

People read what they want or like to read, or what they believe to be correct. So the proposal might make little difference to what political slant they obtain their information. However a more diverse spectrum of media information is essential for the UK in particular, as it is dominated by right wing individuals, businesses and organisations. More balance is required, and the idea of co-operatives owning their own media outlets is something I would like to see Government incentivise in the future. Then again, we are back to the argument of whether competition, privatisation, 'the market' are the way forward. In terms of the media, clearly they are not. Even our Government make policy in response to media headlines, call that democracy??


Posted by Bolshy on May 28, 2007 1:30 PM:

It's worth pointing out that one national daily newspaper already exists in Britain that's owned by its readers through a co-operative -- the Morning Star. It has been run on such a democratic basis since the establishment of the People's Press Printing Society in 1945.


Posted by Manclad on May 28, 2007 11:49 PM.

If you give people what they want you end up with garbage like Heat, which was focus grouped to within an inch of its life at its launch. If you don't give people what they like to read then you go bust, but that's a different argument.


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