Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chandler Family Calls for Community Ownership

A cruical question for our time is whether the news media's public interest obligations can coexist with the market's demands for maximized profits.

In a surprising development, a prominent member of the Chandler family--onetime owners of the LA Times until the paper (and other Chandler properties including the Morning Call) got bought up by Chicago's Tribune Co.--has concluded that community ownership is the only feasible arrangment to keep newspapers serving the public.

In a recent LA Times op-ed column, Harry Chandler (namesake of the Times founder) pointed to the ruthless profit expecations of publicly traded companies, and acknowledged that the once-exciting experiments in local-magnate buy ups (e.g., the Philly Inquirer), have turned sour for the same profit-seeking resons. Here's Chandler:

Maybe it is best to look beyond corporate or private equity owners. Like professional sports teams, newspapers are trophy properties, able to create instant stature for their owners. The price is usually less-than double-digit returns. Perhaps a "benevolent billionaire" will rescue The Times. Sadly, my family trust appears not to be interested.

Another sports ownership example worth contemplating is community ownership, like that of the Green Bay Packers football team. Article I of its bylaws states, "This association shall be a community project, intended to promote community welfare ... its purposes shall be exclusively charitable." Sound appealing? If 20% of Times readers invest $1,000, it could work. I'll write the first check for the Los Angeles Times Community Owners LLC.

It's worth repeating that the Trib Co. (including the LA Times and our own Morning Call) is on the block....

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