For ten years, Jim Hightower’s weekly column – Little Puffs of Populism – has been distributed week in and week out by Creators’ Syndicate to newspapers around the country.
Not one problem.
Until this week’s column titled Free The Free Press from Wall Street Plunderers.
“While Creators’ reluctance to anger these powerful interests is somewhat understandable, the implications are frightening. It’s one more example of this dangerous time for America’s decreasingly-free press that, ironically, Jim lays out in this very column.”
Earlier this week, Creators’s Syndicate informed Hightower they were not going to distribute this one.
“The big, hedge-fund owned newspaper chains that Hightower calls out in his column are big customers of theirs, and as such, they don’t want to risk offending them,” said Hightower assistant Melody Byrd. “But while Creators’ reluctance to anger these powerful interests is somewhat understandable, the implications are frightening. It’s one more example of this dangerous time for America’s decreasingly-free press that, ironically, Jim lays out in this very column.”
In a note to newspapers urging them to run the column anyway, Byrd wrote – “the American people deserve to know more about the entities that are squeezing so many of our community newspapers for cash and, in the process, choking our democracy.”
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Byrd said that Creators’ Syndicate told her that while the hedge funds that Hightower fingered in his column don’t own the syndicate, they do own many of the newspapers that the syndicate distributes to.
“The demise of the real news reporting by our city and regional papers is a product of their profiteering owners,” Hightower wrote in the column. “Not the families and companies that built and nurtured true journalism, but the new breed of fast-buck hucksters who’ve scooped up hundreds of America’s newspapers from the bargain bins of media sell-offs.”
“The buyers are hedge-fund scavengers with names like Digital First and GateHouse,” Hightower wrote.
“They know nothing about journalism and care less, for they’re ruthless Wall Street profiteers out to grab big bucks fast by slashing the journalistic and production staffs of each paper, voiding all employee benefits (from pensions to free coffee in the breakroom), shriveling the paper’s size and news content, selling the presses and other assets, tripling the price of their inferior product – then declaring bankruptcy, shutting down the paper, and auctioning off the bones before moving on to plunder another town’s paper.”
“By 2014, America’s two largest media chains were not venerable publishers who believe that a newspaper’s mission includes a commitment to truth and a civic responsibility, but GateHouse and Digital First, whose managers believe that good journalism is measured by the personal profit they can squeeze from it.”
“As revealed last year in an American Prospect article, GateHouse executives had demanded that its papers cut $27 million from their operating expenses. Thousands of newspaper employees suffered that $27 million cut in large part because one employee – the hedge fund’s CEO – had extracted $54 million in personal pay from the conglomerate, including an $11 million bonus.”
“To these absentee owners and operators, our newspapers are just mines, entitling them to extract enormous financial wealth and social well-being from our communities.”