While the idea of a truly free press is a noble one, it certainly wasn’t always that way in the past, with moguls like William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer and Henry Luce flooding the country with media products they made. Hearst was so legendary that one of the best films ever was inspired by him, “Citizen Kane,” and Pulitzer’s name lends itself to one of the most prestigious awards in journalism and also one of the halls at Columbia University. Like Roger Ailes of more recent times, these men weren’t beneath playing dirty and getting back at each other and other perceived rivals.
Even though not all of the big players in media today are eccentric or ruthless like some of those men, they do hold a tremendous amount of power, and a number of prominent media outlets have already seen owners play hardball when workers wanted to unionize or otherwise cut employees for the sake of profit. At a certain point, these media outlets just become another set of objects for these billionaires to purchase without even noticing a hit to the bank account.
A recent example is when Marc Benioff bought Time magazine for $190 million in cash. He got a lot of his money from his leadership at Salesforce.
The deal puts Benioff in league with other titans of industry of late like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post; Laurene Powell Jobs of who has majority control of The Atlantic; and Michael R. Bloomberg, owner of Businessweek and Bloomberg News.
While it may seem like a miraculous solution to have these rich people come along and save dying newspapers and other outlets, there are a number of problems and dangers that come with this model and attitude.
“Even good billionaires need to have less of a role in our public life,” Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All,” said, who writes about the global elites. “They are buying up the free press, which is meant to hold them accountable.”
“We have a new era, particularly in the last few years, of billionaire owners from the new economy who are intrigued by this old dilemma,” Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, a journalism advocacy group, said.
“Jobs and Bezos and presumably Benioff, these people are doing good work,” Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, said. He gave $20 million to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism over the summer, which is why it is now renamed in his honor. “Anything that helps independent journalism is a good thing.”
“We are living in a time of crisis,” Newmark said in an interview, referencing eroding trust in media and the spreading of misinformation. He went on to say he believes well-trained journalists can help resolve these problems.
By: Francisco Hayes