When billionaires buy media companies, well, it’s complicated.
First, Woody Allen’s observation:
“The lion may lie down with the lamb, but one of them is going to have a sleepless night”
Aaron Ross Sorkin, columnist at The New York Times, explains in more detail in, ‘Amazon Washington Post’? Ready ‘Salesforce Time’? :
“Trump often derides Amazon in part because Jeff Bezos, its founder and chief executive, owns the paper … despite Mr. Bezos insistence that he has no hand in the newspaper reporting …
“In the age of Trump, the extracurricular activities of public company executives … have created new corporate governance questions … Boards of directors must wonder whether such purchases are good for business and shareholders might have their own concerns.”
The issues surfaced again recently with the purchase of TIME magazine by Marc Benioff, co- founder and C.E.O. of Salesforce, and his wife, Lynn. The Benioffs have emphasized that the purchase was with their personal resources and that they would not be involved in editorial management.
They join Mr. Bezos and other very successful business “tycoons” in helping to save struggling legacy media while pledging to honor the independence of the reporters and editors on staff. Among them: Ms. Laurene Powell Jobs, The Atlantic; Michael Bloomberg, Business Week; and, most recently, Patrick Soon-Shiong, The Los Angeles Times.
But by no means are all such investments successful. Iconic publications such as The New Republic and The Village Voice have been interred after being purchased by super wealthy individuals who became disenchanted by the publications’ financial performance.
Then there is the outlier, flip-side case of Sheldon Adelson.
More Journalists Leaving ‘Las Vegas Review-Journal’ after Sale to Billionaire . “A flood of reporters and editors left the newspaper after it was bought by the Adelson family citing curtailed editorial freedom, murky business practices and unethical managers.”
Sheldon Adelson: the casino mogul driving Trump’s Middle East Policy https://bit.ly/2xFqOwb. “The Las Vegas billionaire gave Republicans $82m for the 2016 elections and his views, notably staunch support for Netanyahu’s Israel, are now the official US line.”
Told you it’s complicated.
So, in his New York Times commentary,
David Gelles tries to draw a fair balance by presenting the experience of Walter Isaacson, former editor of Time:
“… I went through the disaster of Time Warner, a company that only cared about short-term stock price and didn’t have a feel for journalism…
“[Now], I have come to the belief that a sole proprietor, especially a benevolent and public spirited one, is a good thing in troubled times.”
Finally, David Ross Sorkin offers this sobering societal bottom line on such C.E.O. investments: “For now, let’s hope it doesn’t become a genuine problem given the number of journalistic institutions that may need a benefactor”.