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The prospect of diversity terrifies ‘objective’ journalists

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Newspapers that fail to adapt to the 21st century won’t be around for the 22nd. Some newspaper publishers want to abandon printed newspapers to survive in the digital free-for-all. The Tribune Co., owner of eight regional papers, including The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2009 and just four months ago emerged from bankruptcy reorganization intent on dumping the papers that served as the core of the business since Tribune Co. was founded in 1847.

The libertarian-conservative brothers Charles and David Koch are said to be among those bidding to buy and keep those papers alive, to the horror of “objective” journalists. The website, widely read in newsrooms, last week quoted an anonymous Tribune reporter as saying it’s “extremely disheartening to know serious bids are being entertained to sell to the Kochs.” He said he had “survived layoffs and gone long enough [without] a raise to understand what it has been like the last four years.” He’s not looking forward to the prospect of businessmen in charge who have proved they know how to run a business.

The bias against the Kochs is that they have supported conservative causes, and this seems unnatural to certain “objective” journalists. A Media Studies Center/Roper Center survey found that 89 percent of Washington-based political journalists voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, and the result was presumably similar in Chicago, Los Angeles and other big cities.

That, of course, is the way it’s “supposed to be.” There’s no cry of outrage against the Kochs’ chief rival for The Los Angeles Times, a group led by billionaires Eli Broad and Ron Burkle, who are prominent donors to Democratic candidates and liberal causes. Or against liberal billionaire Warren Buffett, who recently announced his intention to acquire more newspapers for his Berkshire Hathaway portfolio. Or against Michael R. Bloomberg, whose media empire last week hired David Plouffe, a former top lieutenant to President Obama, as a Bloomberg TV on-air contributor and “strategic adviser.”

The website reported that the Tribune Co. is expected to begin reviewing would-be buyers this month “and only then will it be determined if the Koch brothers are serious candidates.” The eight Tribune Co. newspapers up for sale (including The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant and The Orlando Sentinel, along with the Chicago and Los Angeles papers), could go for “a mere $623 million — pocket change for Koch Industries,” the privately held Wichita, Kan.-based conglomerate with annual revenues of about $115 billion. The Koch brothers each have a personal net worth of $34 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

These are challenging days for newspapers. The New Orleans Times-Picayune’s print edition is published only three times a week, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer announced last month that it would similarly cut home delivery to three days a week. You might think newspaper editors and reporters would welcome the Koch brothers as saviors of an industry in steep decline, but ideology can trump cool judgment. The Koch brothers might provide diversity and balance. This terrifies “objective” journalists wedded to the sinking status quo, and for good reason.

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