Vulture Capitalism and Your Local Newspaper

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It’s been a solid four months since the board at Lee Enterprises has handed out bonuses to the executives who’ve run the newspaper chain to ground, so there was little surprise when a new round of lucre, totaling $1.1 million was handed out to two executives on Friday.

Romanekso reports:

Lee, which reported an 18% profit decline in February, has regularly given raises and bonuses to Junck and her associates while the company lays off journalists, including the top editor at its Provo paper. In 2012, the Post-Dispatch’s leading columnist advised Junckto put more distance between her layoff announcements and her bonuses.

Meanwhile, reporters at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch are being paid less than they were six years ago.

It’s part of the same, disheartening pattern that gets repeated every few months at the Lee papers. Experienced reporters are pushed out, news desks are stretched thin, advertising is outsourced and the local product’s credibility gets destroyed.

As a result, as hopefully to get Ms. Junck another well deserved reward, I plan to kick off my “One Week in the Independent Record” feature. I’ll buy a copy of the local paper of record every day this week and we’ll take a look at what kind of coverage a bare bones shell of a paper, hollowed out by corporate greed, gets the local consumer.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

23 Comments

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    • Thanks for highlighting this Steve.

      Keep in mind that what Governor Bullock has just done, with the blessing of the timber industry and “collaborators” like Montana Trout Unlimited and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, is nominated pretty much all forested acres of these National Forests outside of designated Wilderness and a few roadless areas for more logging. ??

      The public should also be aware that the map provided by Gov Bullock and reprinted by the media is very misleading when it states: “% of total forest land base considered for Priority Landscape Designation.”

      That means it’s the % of the TOTAL acres of the National Forest…..NOT the % of the total FORESTED acres of each National Forest.?

      Here’s a link to a chart from the Forest Service demonstrating the fact that as of Sept 2013 there was 216.9 MMBF of National Forest timber “under contract” in Montana, but uncut. ??This info directly from the Forest Service counters the timber industry and political rhetoric pushing for more taxpayer subsidized national forest logging:??

      https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5406489.pdf

      What does that 216.9 MMBF of timber “under contract” but uncut even look like you might ask???

      Well, it would require 43,380 logging trucks to haul that amount of timber. If lined up end-to-end those 43,380 logging trucks would stretch for approximately 370 miles, so basically from St. Regis to Billings, Montana along I-90.

      ??Here’s something else to consider. The recently passed Farm Bill also included Sec 8204.

      This section of the Farm Bill would repeal the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to allow an unlimited amount of logging projects up to 3,000 acres in size to be implemented on National Forests without full environmental analysis of harmful effects to water quality, wildlife or rare, threatened or endangered species. It would also eliminate administrative appeals on these logging projects, thereby eliminating meaningful and full public participation in these forest management decisions.

      It would be very helpful to the general public who owns these public lands if the media would do a better job of telling the whole story, instead of just reprinting rhetoric from politicians and the timber industry demanding more public land logging.

      Ask yourself, why would the news media and politicians like Gov Bullock, Sen Tester, Sen Walsh and Rep Daines keep this critical information from the public while the look to weaken environmental laws, limit public process and mandate big increases in taxpayer subsidized National Forest logging?

  • Newspapers are deer in the headlight of technology, that’s all. That news model might be history, Twitter replacing it somehow. I am told that that service using hashtags puts you right on top of any event.

    But I sense in your post here that you are lamenting journalism as it used to be. There are no good old days there. It’s always been what fits on the back of advertising. Journalism, or reporting to us on what powerful people are doing, has always been constrained here in the land where everyone has free speech and the good sense not to use it.

    I have long viewed the job of American journalists to be not to know stuff, to be incurious, a career-saving trait you’re well familiar with. They are very good at their jobs.

      • Are you aware, Don, that your comments are always devoid of content? You merely spout some empty-headed smart ass insult. Somehow you think you’re clever.

    • You don’t ‘sense’ anything – you have a speech you want to give (which you’ve given a dozen times before, I hope you’re just copy pasting, not wasting your time typing the same four comments over and over again) about the media, and you’re pretending Don said what you want him to say to justify giving that speech. This isn’t about lowering standards of journalism in America – if it was, that’s what the headline would be. It’s instead a story of how modern corporate structure and the financialization of industry has taken to rewarding people who are good not at producing things but at navigating financial instruments and manipulating boards. The results isn’t merely a bad newspaper – it’s lower quality products coming out of every company and every industry where executives can make a quick buck without actually contributing to the product being produced.

      • Waiting for something.new in that comment. It’s tautology. You said what I said, and Don’t know it! There’s nothing new or interesting, but in typical PW hubristic fashion you seem to think you’ve got insight. Nah.

        Here’s what’s funny, Spraky: If I said only one thing here in comments, that you and Don were as clever and insightful as you think you are, you’d never complain about my comments. You’d even think that I was insightful! I’d be doing guest spots!

        You’re nothing but a couple of bloated egos. Too many participation ribbons, no actual accomplishments?

        • Read your comment again, Mark. It’s like nothing I said, or Don said.

          “. It’s always been what fits on the back of advertising.”

          That’s a passable description of what the media in general produces, but the point Don and I are making is that Lee is not even producing that. Mary Junck is getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet her company is failing to produce material that can turn a profit. She’s busy playing the game of rake in bonuses and walk away. The enormous role financial instruments and the financial industry play in corporate practice is not just bad for some imagined notion of independent journalism, as you seem to think, but is generally bad for the productivity of American business. GM is the finest example, but there are dozens of others.

          • You are saying nothing different about American journalism that has been said a million times before. What makes you think it’s insightful? Private for-profit news gathering cannot operate against its own interest, and must serve advertisers and investors first. Lee is slowly lining up for asset stripping. The rats are chasing in while they can. Who cares? The company never offered anything better than the old copper collar days.

            There is nothing new or different going on. Neither you or Don have offered anything new or original or insightful.

            • Again Mark, the media is only incidental to this conversation – it’s a question of corporate governance and behavior. And certainly Don’s not the first to notice the deification of finance at the expense of production (Krugman and DeLong have done so marvelously, I’d say), but he’s pointing out how it is visible in Helena.

              But let’s talk about media, Mark. Your basic claim is that media is unchanging – since the days of the copper kings, you say. Fine. Your other basic claim, fundamental to your belief system, is that the problem with media is that it is run by money. Fine. But if that is true, shouldn’t we expect the product produced by the media to be affected by increased media consolidation and concentration of wealth. But wait – the consolidation of the media and concentration of wealth have both undergone immense swings since ‘the copper kings’ – so shouldn’t we expect to see some evidence in the media that they control? As usual, your worldview taken in snippets of Chomsky and conspiracy blogs in equal measure, and not held together by any kind of coherent explanation.

  • “Give the customer what he wants and he’ll beat a path to your door”-can’t remember author.

    In 1975 I was selling my first used car in the Billings Gazette classifies. In the description I wanted to put ps(power steering), pb(power brakes), ac(air conditioning), and at(automatic transmission). The clerk refused. They charged by the letter back then and any abbreviation was a loss of revenue.

    Fast forward to the middle eighties and a start up called “The Penny Saver” came into town. They accepted the shortened descriptions. The all powerful monopoly couldn’t stand this intrusion, they bought the owners out. Same goes for the “Thrifty Nickel”, except they continued to run it to prevent others from intruding.

    It was only until “Craigslist’s” roll out did the coffin nails began to stick. Good riddance. Whether it’s political slant or business practices force feeders die a starving death.

      • A 9 figure “Non-Profit”.

        “Craigslist’s main source of revenue is paid job ads in select cities—$75 per ad for the San Francisco Bay Area; $25 per ad for New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, Orange County (California) and Portland, Oregon—and paid broker apartment listings in New York City ($10 per ad).

        The company does not formally disclose financial or ownership information. Analysts and commentators have reported varying figures for its annual revenue, ranging from $10 million in 2004, $20 million in 2005, and $25 million in 2006 to possibly $150 million in 2007.[16][17][18]

        On August 13, 2004, Newmark announced on his blog that auction giant eBay had purchased a 25% stake in the company from a former employee.[19] Some fans of Craigslist expressed concern that this development would affect the site’s longtime non-commercial nature. As of April 2012, there have been no substantive changes to the usefulness or non-advertising nature of the site—no banner ads, charges for a few services provided to businesses.”-Wiki.

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