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Time to Take Newspapers from Billionaires and Return Them to the People

'Free the Press' activist group tries to raise $660 million to buy Tribune newspapers and turn them over to local communities.
 
 
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A group of activists started a crowd-sourcing campaign to purchase the Tribune Company in response to bids by right-wing moguls Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers to snag the massive newspaper corporation.

According to the Indiegogo campaign site, the Other 98% launched Free the Press to reclaim the media from its corporate owners. The Tribune Company owns a host of influential newspapers, including the Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. As the Huffington Post notes, Rupert Murdoch is interested in purchasing the latter two, while the Koch Brothers are eyeing all eight of the Tribune’s papers. To stop them, Free the Press aims to purchase the company and return these outlets to their local communities.

It’s not going to be cheap. The activists gave themselves 30 days to raise $660 million to purchase the company. It may be easy to mock the effort, but Free the Press raised more than $66,000 in a day, and donations continue to stream in. I spoke with one of the campaign’s leaders, Nicole Carty, who also stars in the launch video at the bottom of the page:

So, you’re aiming to raise $660 million to buy the Tribune Company. Is this a serious effort?

That’s the first question I get. I have to ask, “Why is it so crazy for people to own a newspaper company?” We’re obviously not naive. We know we’re asking for a lot of money. I think the real question is “Why is that a lot of money?” We’re more serious about the people being in control of the media.

Your campaign says you aim to give these newspapers “back to the communities.” What does a community newspaper look like?

It would be a newspaper without an agenda, free to report on any news. Journalists could come unshackled to report on news that actually affects communities. We obviously haven’t thought about how it would look like written down, but it would be powered by the people. It would be owned by the people. The press would be free to report on the information we need without corporate ownership or even the government coming down on us.

From your campaign’s standpoint, what do we lose when the Koch Brothers or Rupert Murdoch buys a newspaper company?

You don’t get the critique on government activity or corporate activity. I live in New York City. There are basic things happening here that aren’t making it into newspapers. Gentrification is happening in so many neighborhoods. New York City is turning into a destination for the wealthy. Everyone is else is literally getting squeezed out to the furthest points of the city. There’s no mainstream media that’s widely accessible to the side of ordinary people.

If you have a billionaire in New York City making the decisions about what’s going to be the news in LA or Chicago or Baltimore—these are cities with a lot of people of color. What do Murdoch or the Koch brothers have to say to them beside manipulate them? There’s a huge disconnection between these billionaires and their lives and what’s important to some kid who lives in Chicago. To bring it closer to home, that’s one huge step towards benefiting the coverage of a community.

The thing is, yes Murdoch and the Koch Brothers are the absolute worse option, but the whole idea of one billionaire controlling the media is fundamentally wrong. Even if they person has an agenda I agree with, it shouldn’t be someone who is really wealthy. It should be everyone. That’s what the media was made for.

Let’s talk about the media control and thought.

You have something going in the background, telling you a message, appealing to the worst side of you, your prejudices. Look back at the bombings in Boston. Immediately, almost everyone in the mainstream media super irresponsibly jumped to conclusions about who the bombers were and what their motivations were. People, because they’ve been exposed to media and this kind of scapegoating that’s happened for decades will be more prone to buy into the message. It’s because of the media, it’s because of the message that’s been circulated and ingrained in us. Even if we’re not aware of it, it’s a trap that’s running constantly. I don’t think it’s impossible to pay attention to something that’s so present. It’s everywhere.

Let’s say you’re successful and purchase the Tribune Company. What’s next? How would you keep these papers afloat? How would they remain competitive?

Just to be clear. We’re trying to buy the Tribune for the people. We don’t have much interest in actually owning it. We’d unleash the papers to report on whatever. Ideally, the papers would be crowd-sourced in some way on a local media. There are plenty of examples of public media. Look at the Pacifica network. That’s a publically funded radio station that works just find and covers important news. The Green Bay Packers uses a different model. They have a board and shareholders. There are definitely examples out there for how it can be done. It’s possible and there are options.

People have to buy into this no matter what. They know that CNN, MSNBC, Fox—they’re all owned by billionaires with agendas. Just knowing something is agendaless, reporting real news—that would speak for itself.

You guys have already raised more than $53,000 in a day (At time of publication, that number grew to more than $66,000).

It’s incredible. But seeing that amount of money and seeing so much of that bar left, it’s out of control. We’ve surpassed the average yearly salary of most Americans. We’ve made more money than that in one day and we’re still nowhere close. That, to me speaks that speaks volumes about how absurd this is.

What happens if you don’t meet the $660 million goal in 30 days?

We made the campaign fixed-funding, so if we don’t meet the goal, all the money goes back to the people it came from. We were really intentional about that, because we’re not trying to scam anyone or take people’s money for our own needs. We want to talk about the Tribune Company and we want to create a press.

Watch The Other 98%'s appeal:

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.