Industrialists Charles and David Koch, we’ve learned, are interested in buying the Los Angeles Times and seven other regional papers under the Tribune Co. banner.
People are freaked. The Koch brothers boost libertarian organizations including the Cato Institute and the group Americans for Prosperity, an “organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state, and federal levels.”
Some say all that activity disqualifies them to own public media trusts. The Newspaper Guild & Communications Workers of America has issued a statement that reads, in part:
Recently you’ve seen many petitions asking that the Koch brothers not be allowed to buy the Tribune Company’s newspapers. We understand why the Kochs breed this distrust. They are active political proponents of harsh right-wing positions. We’re also not certain that Tribune will listen to anything but money when the final decision is made.
According to a Los Angeles Times report, members of the Los Angeles City Council are weighing a move to pull “city pension money from the investment firms that own the Los Angeles Times if they sell the publication to buyers who do not support ‘professional and objective journalism.’ ”
None of that is as weighty as a show of hands. The Huffington Post writes that at a gathering of Los Angeles Times staffers, columnist Steve Lopez polled staffers on how they’d respond to a Koch acquisition. ” ‘Raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by the Koch brothers.’ About half the staff raised their hands.”
Bad move, half of the Los Angeles Times staff! For the following reasons:
1) You don’t really mean it. This is not the tech boom.
Fifteen years ago, any fine journalist could put on some swagger and volunteer to quit any newsroom. Didn’t matter: Thousands of great journalism jobs with sweet salaries were waiting for them.
Now? Thousands of better-qualified journalists are waiting to apply for each new journalism job.
2) You’re replaceable — highly so. Just as we all are. For reasons cited in the item above.
3) Why miss out on the best media story ever? Let’s just stipulate that the Kochs buy the property. Then let’s stipulate that they do precisely what the Times’s David Horsey fears, which is to turn that paper and other Tribune papers into “print versions of Fox News.”
There’s a story. Take notes and tell it, or at least leak your observations to a friendly media reporter.
4) Don’t make the Times a more tempting target. When new owners take over a newspaper, they generally want to make deep changes to the product. Perhaps they want more digital nativism in the newsroom. Perhaps they want better copy editing. Perhaps they want — who knows? — better fashion coverage. Perhaps they want, as Koch critics fear, conservative ideologues.
Whatever the imperative may be, however, new owners tend to want to reinvent the paper’s staff. And in many cases, that’s a hassle: On account of work rules or morale considerations or somesuch, it can be difficult to sweep out an editorial staff. Knowing in advance that half the newsroom will simply walk out could well make your paper a more attractive target for the Koch brothers. Talk about unintended consequences.
5) What do your spouses say? Are they down with this whole quitting thing?
Keep your hands down!