A streak of great stories about the journalism crisis is appearing lately.

I hope members of Congress, who are in the final stretch of writing a budget bill that could help save local newspapers, are reading.

The Atlantic in particular has been on a roll.

First it wrote about Iowa’s oldest newspaper getting ravaged after it was acquired by Gannett, leaving the town of Burlington less connected and less informed as the paper was milked dry by the private equity-controlled chain. We reprinted that one on Sunday’s Opinion page.

That was followed by a blockbuster Atlantic piece about another rapacious Wall Street outfit, Alden Global Capital, that bought a huge share of America’s newspapers and is bleeding them nearly to death.

“What threatens local newspapers now is not just digital disruption or abstract market forces,” McKay Coppins writes in the piece. “They’re being targeted by investors who have figured out how to get rich by strip-mining local-news outfits. The model is simple: Gut the staff, sell the real estatejack up subscription prices, and wring as much cash as possible out of the enterprise until eventually enough readers cancel their subscriptions that the paper folds, or is reduced to a desiccated husk of its former self.”

Alden’s vulture capitalism has been widely covered, but The Atlantic’s piece is rich with new details and remarkably includes an interview with Alden co-founder Heath Freeman.


The story also provides details of a news startup in Baltimore, backed by $15 million from hotelier Stewart Bainum Jr. Earlier this year Bainum made a noble but unsuccessful effort to save The Baltimore Sun and other former Tribune newspapers from being acquired by Alden. Now he’s building a rival to the Sun.

While Bainum’s investment is terrific, there just aren’t that many people like him or David Syre, the newspaper-loving investor backing a new paper in Bellingham that I wrote about in August.

That’s another argument for policies to help sustain local, independent news organizations. They would do more than stabilize what’s left and prevent mass extinction. Tax credits to incentivize the hiring of journalists would also create conditions that encourage others to step forward and save or create local news organizations.

The Atlantic’s piece about Alden is also a reminder that the U.S. needs to restore regulations that limited media consolidation. Past arguments that consolidation is good for the industry now seem as hollow as an Alden newsroom.

Who’s calling who guilty? Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is the latest example of a politician attacking the press, democracy and the Constitution be damned, to deflect from his shortcomings.

Parson, a former sheriff, last week threatened criminal prosecution of a reporter and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. The crime? Disclosing how poorly his administration managed a state web site.


Post-Dispatch reporter Josh Renaud happened upon a trove of educators’ Social Security numbers visible to anyone online with a few mouse clicks. Instead of rushing out a gotcha story, the paper notified the state and held the story, giving the state a chance to fix the problem.

Then, when the paper published its story, Parson called the reporter a “hacker” and threatened prosecution.

Maybe Parson is taking a cue from Iraqi officials who prosecuted a journalist for “misuse of communication devices” in June?

Parson’s attack came shortly after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to journalists threatened by despots in Russia and the Philippines. As the prize committee stated in the announcement, “Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.”

Seeing such threats in the heart of America is absurd and disgraceful. But it’s also a reminder that important work is still being done at papers owned by extractive chains, like the Lee Enterprises-owned Post-Dispatch.

(Editor’s note: This is excerpted from the Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Read the full newsletter here.)