The Koch brothers have been trying to buy the Los Angeles Times. Lefties are in a tizzy, of course. John Henry, principal owner of the Red Sox, bought the Boston Globe from the hapless New York Times. Henry paid $70 million. The Times had bought it for $1.1 billion. And Jeff Bezos of Amazon just bought The Washington Post. Why are these smart guys spending money on “dead” media outlets? Maybe because print will soon be where the money is, especially print “brand names” with extensions into the electronic world.
The key to newspapers’ future may be the 60+ crowd with pushes from a few fairly recent phenomena.
Older folks actually like print and it’s not just because it’s a habit. They were educated differently and even the dumbest of them can actually read. They’re also curious and open-minded because when they were in school the focus was on actual education and not on social engineering.
They pay more attention to details so sound bites just make them ask questions; they want more. Print can give them more and newspapers in particular can do that every day. Find a need and fill it and as soon as newspapers wake up, they just might.
One recent phenomenon that’s going to matter is financial. Older folks have more money to spend than younger folks and it is looking more and more unlikely that the current cadre of youngsters will ever catch up.
Another phenomenon is that television has become much, much worse than the famous “vast wasteland” Newton Minow, then Chairman of the FCC, described in a speech 52 years ago. A few examples should make the point: politically correct speech and themes that, not surprisingly, have resulted in programming that makes viewers feel like they’ve been dragged through a sewer; the disgraceful news departments of the major networks; “reality” shows. There’s a reason the Hallmark Channel is the fastest growing cable programmer.
TV advertising is even worse than the programming. There’s more of it in seemingly endless strings; ambulance-chasing lawyers and prescription drug manufacturers are regulars. Who can watch that stuff? Thanks to the clicker and 500 channels, nobody has to.
Online advertising has a lot of problems but the one that matters here is that reading online is annoying. Intrusive ads pop up, random links take you far from where you want to be, emails keep coming in. It’s like trying to read a book while someone turns the pages before you’re ready and the mailman keeps dropping letters onto your lap.
So, maybe, newspapers are looking more attractive. But there is a potential problem. If owners and editors want to appeal to older and wealthier people, they’d better get the politics right.
If the Kochs manage to get their hands on the L.A. Times, despite the objections of local politicians, the paper will get a lot more conservative in a hurry. It will be one of the very few conservative dailies in a major market. (Offhand, I can think of only three or four others including the New York Post, Reverend Moon’s Washington Times, and the Dallas Morning News, plus the Op-Ed pages of the Wall Street Journal.) Older folks in southern California, naturally more conservative, will read the Kochs’ Times and advertisers will climb aboard.
I know nothing of the politics of John Henry in Boston. If he’s a (so called) Progressive, his $70 million investment will surely dwindle.
Jeff Bezos is a Progressive but he’s a very smart businessman and my guess is that he’ll hire a few more conservative writers and editors and do very well, despite the squawks of his leftie buddies. If the Kochs, John Henry and Jeff Bezos succeed, a lot of shareholders will start squawking, too, and they’ll drown out the opposition.