Sales talk

'Boston Globe' and 'Washington Post' deals push back against an unhealthy trend in US media

Just when the US media was beginning to look like a depressing combination of Dry Gulch and the Sargasso Sea, with giants like The New York Times groping for a business model, icons like Newsweek vanishing into the ether and lesser mastheads dropping like flies coast to coast, two events have suggested that the US still knows the way. The New York Times sold The Boston Globe to Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry and The Washington Post accepted a bid from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Analysts are a bit bemused, since neither deal makes financial sense.

But it could be that these sales reaffirm an old truth, easily forgotten in the Murdoch era newspapers are not just about the profit motive. They are also about power, political beliefs, lobbying, activism, community service, even what may loosely be called philanthropy. After the event, it came out that the Globe did not go to the highest bidder. Other interests, including those of the Boston community, were considered. No one except Bezos, who has put up his private money, knows why he wants a paper. Maybe to run a cross-media experiment, maybe to gain influence for Amazon, which many would be happy to pull down a notch. Or maybe it's to save a loss-making icon.

These sales appear to reverse an unhealthy trend in American media. Large media conglomerates were buying up smaller properties to offer more bang for the buck to advertisers, and local papers which elected to remain independent were being hung out to dry. It remains to be seen how The Globe and The Post fare under new ownership, but at least they suggest, respectively, that there is again space for local media and for owners who can think of the many functions that media serve, apart from profit.

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