“With this book Kennedy establishes himself as one of our most knowledgeable scholars on the changing communications landscape and how the internet is having as profound effect on our culture as the invention of the printing press had on the people of that era.” — Bob Schieffer, CBS News
“There is no ‘fake’ news in Dan Kennedy’s important, scrupulously reported account of why news and newspapers are vital to a democracy.” — Ken Auletta, The New Yorker
“In a book whose conclusions will be debated, Kennedy rightly suggests that quality journalism is not only salvageable, but necessary.” — Kirkus Reviews, Dec. 19, 2017
Will the return of old-style individual ownership spark a renaissance in the newspaper business?
Over the course of a generation, the story of the daily newspaper has been an unchecked slide from record profitability and readership to plummeting profits, increasing irrelevance, and inevitable obsolescence. The forces killing major dailies, alternative weeklies, and small-town shoppers are well understood — or seem obvious in hindsight, at least — and the catalog of publications that have gone under reads like a who’s who of American journalism. During the past half-century, old-style press barons gave way to a cabal of corporate interests who were unable or unwilling to invest in the future even as technological change was destroying their core business. The Taylor family sold the Boston Globe to the New York Times Company in 1993 for a cool $1.1 billion. Twenty years later, the Times Company resold it for just $70 million. The unexpected story, however, is not what they sold it for but who they sold it to: John Henry, the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox.
A billionaire who made his money in the world of high finance, Henry inspired optimism in Boston because of his track record as a public-spirited business executive—and because his deep pockets seemed to ensure that the shrunken newspaper would not be subjected to further downsizing. In just a few days, the sale of the Globe was overtaken by much bigger news: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and one of the world’s richest people, had reached a deal to buy the Washington Post for $250 million.
Henry’s ascension at the Globe sparked hope. Bezos’s purchase seemed to inspire nothing short of ecstasy, as numerous observers expressed the belief that his lofty status as one of our leading digital visionaries could help him solve the daunting financial problems facing the newspaper business.
Though Bezos and Henry are the two most prominent individuals to enter the newspaper business, a third preceded them. Aaron Kushner, a greeting-card executive, acquired California’s Orange County Register in July 2012 then pursued an audacious agenda, expanding coverage and hiring journalists in an era when nearly all other newspaper owners were trying to avoid cutting both.
The Return of the Moguls chronicles a story in the making. Is a return to old-style individual ownership sparking a renaissance for the newspaper business, and if so, how?
About the author
Dan Kennedy is a professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a nationally known media commentator. He was a panelist on GBH-TV’s Beat the Press from its founding in 1998 until its end in 2021, and he has written on the news media for GBH News and other publications. He previously wrote a media column for The Guardian and, before that, for The Boston Phoenix. His website, Media Nation, can be found at dankennedy.net.
Kennedy’s latest book, The Return of the Moguls: How Jeff Bezos and John Henry Are Remaking Newspapers for the Twenty-First Century, was published in 2018 by ForeEdge. His previous book, The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age (2013), examines the rise of the New Haven Independent and other digital-only community news organizations. His first book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter’s Eyes (2003), is a memoir about raising a child with dwarfism.