I’m going to make a prediction. Ten years from now, the Boston Globe will be locally owned. It may be a very different paper from what it is today. It may be smaller, more locally focused, and published entirely or mostly online. But it will be bought, probably by Boston business people who understand the importance of the press and its watchdog role.
Which is exactly what happened in Philadelphia yesterday, where local investors paid a reported $562 million for the city’s two daily papers, the Inquirer and the Daily News, and their related holdings.
Given the New York Times Co.’s ownership of the Globe, it was interesting to see Times reporter Katharine Seelye’s take on the deal. Seelye devotes most of her space to handwringing over the possibility that the business interests that now control the Inquirer and the News will interfere with coverage and compromise journalistic independence. The new owners have pledged not to do that, but it’s a real concern.
But given a choice between a rapacious out-of-town chain owner that systematically strips the newsroom in order to drive up profits and local ownership that might occasionally find it irresistable to meddle, I’d take my chances on the latter. Unfortunately, the former is exactly what happened in Philadelphia, where the once-great Inquirer was marginalized by Knight Ridder. Earlier this year, the Inquirer and the Daily News were acquired by the McClatchy chain, which immediately announced its intention to find yet another new buyer.
The Times Co. has been a better steward of the Globe than Knight Ridder was of the Inquirer. But the Times Co. is, nevertheless, a profit-driven, publicly traded company (albeit one whose governing structure leaves it in control of the relatively idealistic Sulzberger family). The Globe’s well-publicized financial problems have turned the paper into a drag on profits. Will the Sulzbergers seek to own the Globe forever? I’d say no — and I’m not alone.
Update: After posting this item, Media Nation reader R.K. called my attention to this excellent commentary on local ownership by former Boston Globe columnist David Warsh, now the proprietor of a Web site called Economic Principals.