The Free Press, Mankato, MN


August 11, 2013

Billionaires can put bite back in newspapers

New newspaper owners are patrons, not barons


At the same time, newspapers professed allegiance to muckraking ideals — “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted” — that required taking sides and in many cases campaigning for controversial policy changes.

Coexisting uneasily, these two standards defined the culture of American newspapers and, because of the sheer number of jobs newspapers supplied, the culture of journalism schools, journalism prizes and other norm-enforcing institutions.

Journalism supported by patrons and amateurs will, of necessity, be more diverse: in content, style, viewpoint, reliability and organizational forms. Money is fungible, but passion is not.

The second big shift complements this increased variety: a greater emphasis on the audience’s experience. “The duty of the paper is to the readers, not the owners,” Bezos told a Post reporter.

It signals a shift toward readers, rather than advertisers, as the primary customers — and toward reading, rather than buying papers, as what the paper wants most from them. For a patron, whatever his goals, reading is fundamental.

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