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Revealed: Wall Street Journal More Interested in Caviar and Foie Gras Than Employee-owned Firms

A bold new threat to the economic status quo brings on a press blackout.
 
 
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Social pain, anger at ecological degradation and the inability of traditional politics to address deep economic failings has fueled an extraordinary amount of practical on-the-ground institutional experimentation and innovation by activists, economists and socially minded business leaders in communities around the country.

A vast democratized " new economy" is slowly emerging throughout the United States. The general public, however, knows almost nothing about it because the American press simply does not cover the developing institutions and strategies.

For instance, a sample assessment of coverage between January and November of 2012 by the most widely circulated newspaper in the United States , theWall Street Journal, found ten times more references to caviar than to employee-owned firms, a growing sector of the economy that involves more than $800 billion in assets and 10 million employee-owners—around three million more individuals than are members of unions in the private sector.

Worker ownership—the most common form of which involves ESOPs, or Employee Stock Ownership Plans—was mentioned in a mere five articles. By contrast, over 60 articles referred to equestrian activities like horse racing, and golf clubs appeared in 132 pieces over the same period.

Although 2012 was designated by the United Nations as the International Year of the Cooperative—an institution that now has more than one billion members worldwide—the Journal’s coverage was similarly thin. More than 120 million Americans are members of co-operatives and cooperative credit unions, 30 million more people than are owners of mutual funds. The Journal, however, devoted some 700 articles to mutual funds between January and October and only 183 to cooperatives. Of these the majority were concerned with high-end New York real estate, with headlines like “Pricey Co-ops Find Buyers”

The vast number of cooperative businesses on Main Streets across the country were discussed in just 70 articles and a mere 14 gave co-op businesses more than passing mention. Together, the articles only narrowly outnumbered the 13 Journal pieces that mentioned the Dom Perignon brand of champagne over the same time frame, and were eclipsed by the 40 Journal entries that refer to the French delicacy foie gras.

Another democratized economic institution is the not-for-profit Community Development Corporation (CDC), roughly 4,500 of which operate in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Such neighborhood corporations create tens of thousands of units of affordable housing and millions of square feet of commercial and industrial space a year. The Journal ran no articles mentioning CDCs in 2012 and only 43 over the past 28 years—less than two a year. Meanwhile, the word château appeared in 30 times as many articles, and luxury apartments received 300 times as much coverage over the same period.

Not surprisingly, the growing “new economy movement” championing democratization of the economy has itself received even less coverage, despite growing citizen involvement on many levels. Over the past year, major national, state and other conferences focusing on worker-owned companies, cooperatives, public banking, nonprofit and public land trusts, and neighborhood corporations were oversubscribed, reflecting the growing interest in these forms. The Journal, however, gave scant coverage to the movement.

Thousands of other creative projects—from green businesses to new forms of combined community-worker efforts—are also underway across the country but receive little coverage. A number are self-consciously understood as attempts to develop working prototypes in state and local “laboratories of democracy” that may be applied at regional and national scale when the right political moment occurs. In Cleveland, Ohio, for instance, a complex of sophisticated worker-owned firms has been developing in desperately poor, predominantly black neighborhoods. The model is partially structured along lines of the Mondragón Corporation, a vibrant network of worker-owned cooperatives in northern Spain with more than 80,000 members and billions of dollars in annual revenue.