Los Angeles Times journalists chafe at possible Koch ownership

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"The people of Los Angeles would be up in arms if some out-of-town billionaires tried to buy the Dodgers and institute a rule that only right-handers could play on the team," Los Angeles Times cartoonist David Horsey writes in a piece accompanying a cartoon mocking the idea that the Koch brothers could buy Tribune Co.'s papers without enforcing ideological conformity. The conservative billionaires are reportedly interested in making a bid for the newspapers, which include the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

Having fallen short of their objective of crushing Democrats and liberalism, they now apparently believe a necessary component in their strategy is ownership of a few major newspapers. It is doubtful they want to merely have a voice on the editorial pages, as has always been a publisher’s prerogative. It is far more likely they hope to create print versions of Fox News.

"About half the [Los Angeles Times'] staff raised their hands" at an awards dinner last week when columnist Steve Lopez asked who would leave if the Kochs bought the paper, Kathleen Miles reports. But some of the potential local owners, Miles writes, are not without their own pitfalls:

As major players in the city, the names [Austin] Beutner and [Eli] Broad regularly appear in the paper. Even if the owners don't interfere, their presence would be in the consciousness of the newsroom. Would reporters, editors and the publisher have the guts to report and run a negative story involving one of their owners? Doubtful.

In Florida, Kyle Swenson reports, some are organizing an online petition against the Kochs acquiring the Tribune Co.-owned South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 635 people have signed. "No one is exactly levitating the Pentagon here," Swenson writes, though he appreciates "people actually taking the time to voice concern over who pulls the strings at their local media outlet."

In a post not about media ownership, the Media Research Center's Tim Graham writes that "leftists who hate billionaires intervening in politics grow mellow when they join their side." And indeed, the agita accompanying a possible Koch bid for Tribune's papers far outnoises anything that happens when Warren Buffett buys a newspaper.

The free market plays into that phenomenon, too, though: As Garance Franke-Ruta wrote in The Atlantic Cities recently, "Newspapers hire people who can deal with working in cities -- big, major, complicated, diverse, progressive cities -- and who will obey the socially progressive laws of those cities at work, even if they live off in the 'burbs somewhere." Conservative newspapers are usually "scrappy local underdogs to the big mainstream dailies," she writes. In the Washington, D.C., area, she notes, The Washington Times and The Washington Examiner have struggled to hold ground against even a weakened Washington Post.

Related: Pearlstein: Tribune journalists should ‘lob a stink bomb’ into potential Koch bid | Eli Broad joins former politician’s bid for L.A. Times

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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