A quid pro quo, or burying the lead

Daniel Greenfield starts with the perspective of skepticism about the media (which is a reasonable attitude) but then …

Even while the media is blaring stories about the abuse of the Payroll Protection Plan loans from the Small Business Administration, its own industry took millions in loans and wants billions more.

Unlike many small businesses which were forced to shut down because of the lockdown, the media has been wrongly listed as ‘essential’ and exempted from the shutdowns, but that hasn’t stopped it from taking money that should have been used to compensate small business owners who can’t stay open.

It should be noted that “the media has been wrongly listed as ‘essential’ and exempted from the shutdowns” is, in order, an opinion and a statement that varies depending on where you are.

Even when the media operations cashing in on the SBA loans aren’t anyone’s idea of a small business.

The Seattle Times maxed out its PPP loan with a $10 million payout. The Seattle Times is not only Washington State’s largest daily, but its parent company, the Seattle Times Company, owns two other papers, and had, as recently as 3 years ago, put out 7 papers. It also owned multiple newspapers in Maine which it sold off for over $200 million. It had two printing plants, one of which it sold. The Rotary Offset Press, which it still owns, continues to print a variety of magazines and newspapers.

But while the Seattle Times is, like the New York Times, a multi-generational family property, the McClatchy Company owns 49.5% of voting stock and 70.6% of voting stock in the Seattle Times Company. McClatchy has dozens of papers and had revenues of over $800 million in 2018.

While McClatchy has operated at a loss and filed for Chapter 11, it’s not a small business. Neither is the hedge fund likely to run it which is partially backed by, among others, CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest and most politically correct pension fund in the country.

Is this really a small business?

Despite the façade of family ownership, national chains have owned much of the Seattle paper business since the Great Depression with McClatchy taking over from Knight Ridder. Even if you ignore all the wizards behind the Emerald City paper’s curtain, the Seattle Times Company has 849 employees.
How was the Seattle Times able to max out the SBA’s PPP loan? Double and triple standards.

If you deal in fresh fruit and have over 100 employees, according to the SBA, you’re not a small business. If you supply toys, you’re limited to 150 employees. But if you’re a newspaper publisher, you can have up to 1,000 employees and still be considered a small business.

That’s how a company that owns 3 papers, a printing plant, and its silent partner is one of the largest news publishers in America, was eligible to grab loans intended to keep small businesses afloat.

The Seattle Times wasn’t unique among the media in seizing loans meant for shuttered small businesses.

The Tampa Bay Times got an $8.5 million loan, close to the max. The Times Publishing Company also puts out 10 papers, a few magazines, and Politifact, a site which claims to ‘fact check’ politicians, but frequently makes false claims, puts out spam, and smears conservatives.

The Company is owned by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which is funded by leftist billionaires like George Soros and Pierre Omidyar.

And just to make matters worse, the Poynter Institute, which is officially a non-profit, also got a stimulus loan of $737,400 to cover its coronavirus “business losses”.

Poynter notes that as, “a nonprofit with under 60 employees, Poynter qualified for the loan.” But Poynter’s documents suggest that its newspaper business had $123 million in revenues with assets of $43 million.

That’s not a small business.

The Tampa Bay Times and its shady operations, the intermingling of non-profits and for-profits, is already suspect on its own. It should not have been taking money meant for small businesses.

But the media has been eager to pig out on small business loans even as it attacks public companies that took PPP loans.  Axios, a media venture by Politico bigwigs, with around 200 employees, funded by venture capital and investment firms, including Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood tycoon with a net worth of $750 million, and NBCUniversal, scored a $5 million PPP loan.

But this obscene piggery isn’t enough for the media which wants a much bigger exemption.

Senator Maria Cantwell, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Senator John Kennedy dispatched a letter urging a waiver on the affiliation rule “which restricts assistance to companies owned or controlled by larger entities.” This would potentially allow huge multi-billion-dollar conglomerates like Gannett to raid money intended for small businesses even as they lobby politicians to shut those businesses down.

The senators falsely claimed that keeping the media going was “essential to public health”.

Affiliation waivers would lift the 1,000-employee limit and allow newspapers owned by national chains to apply for loans as if they were small businesses. It’s the equivalent of having every Starbucks outlet claim that it’s just a small business serving the local community and won’t pass the money upward.

The media has been shaming other corporations that took PPP loans, yet it is entirely without shame.

There ought to be no more sanctimonious lectures about corporate bailouts from Democrats who want to bail out billion-dollar corporations while small business owners can’t get inside the front door. If affiliation rules are waived for the media, Gannett’s thousand plus newspapers would be ready to raid the SBA for loans that would likely never be repaid, while justifying the looting by arguing that the media is suffering because small businesses can’t afford to take out as many ads in local papers as before.

The media has already managed to loot at least $23.5 million meant for small businesses. Affiliation waivers would turn PPP loans into a bailout for media conglomerates that would be worth billions.

The media has already been allowed to operate while actual small businesses were shut down, even though there’s been a coronavirus infection spike in the media which, as far as we know, killed several people.

Evidence?

It’s used its megaphone to push for more shutdowns of local businesses as non-essential even as it demands the right to raid the money intended for those businesses to fund its massive operations.

Enough.

National media chains on the verge of bankruptcy want to exploit small business loans intended for coronavirus relief to keep their broken business model going for another few years before they fold.

The PPP loan program was not designed as a bailout for media giants and their pension fraud.

The Seattle Times, the Tampa Bay Times, Poynter, and Axios ought to be pressured into returning the money they took. And while that may never happen, any effort by politicians to apply affiliation waivers to the media ought to be fought as an obscene cash grab from small businesses to lefty corporations.

It is a good question to ask why businesses of five to 10 employees haven’t been able to give PPP loans while much larger “small” businesses have.

To say, though, that every media outlet is the same is false. To assert that no one needs reporters delving into what their local governments are doing with their tax dollars is ignorant and foolish.

On Giving Tuesday yesterday the Poynter Institute posted:

Today on #GivingTuesdayNow we humbly urge you to consider a gift to support the journalists in your community working tirelessly and at personal risk to help you navigate the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. We are grateful for their skill in providing useful, reliable information about all aspects of the pandemic in these times of confusion and social stress. We need them to continue to tell the stories of the sick, the dying, the health care heroes and those working to move us forward. The value of this journalism is immense.

Your dollars, if you can swing it, are deeply appreciated, particularly given the economic pressures faced by local news companies.

But how about something even better? Don’t just give. Engage.

Buy a subscription to your local news website or newspaper. Become a sustaining member of the local public radio or television station, or your favorite nonprofit news website. If you have the option to patronize an advertiser who spends money with a local news source, please consider. You know what’s better than journalism supporters? Customers.

When the audience has skin in the game, there is an implicit compact with the journalists that together we can help improve a community. Such engagement runs deeper than just the money. We’ve long said journalism helps us participate in democracy.

When the coronavirus hit, local news organizations were already at-risk with “underlying health conditions.” The fragmentation and even evaporation of advertising revenue long before the pandemic forced significant retrenchment and left the local news industry with an uncertain future.

With revenue in freefall, publishers were forced to significantly cut costs, including news coverage, while asking the audience to pay more for the product. That’s a hard balancing act, for sure.

A byproduct of the tension has been an unhealthy indifference. According to a study by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 86% of Americans believe in the value of local news, yet only 20%paid for a subscription or membership to a local news organization. Even those who say they value journalism are becoming bystanders, and in the process settling for a weak sauce of coverage, at times, from their preferred local news source.

The Knight study found more than 60% of Americans believe their community news sources aren’t doing enough to keep an eye on local officials. They want more coverage of education, drug addiction and housing.

A report last year by the nonprofit education news site Chalkbeat said there were no full-time education beat writers in locales as big and complicated as Newark or throughout the communities of Silicon Valley. Might not more paying customers demand better?

Today’s newsroom leaders have a deeply difficult task in covering their communities with substantially fewer journalists than before. But how the remaining resources do get deployed is a choice.

Combine your patronage with engagement — write letters, leave comments, attend events, call in story tips — and you become part of the equation in making the choices mean the most for your community.

The coverage of coronavirus by local journalists has struck a blow against indifference. Today we recognize the exceptional energy, relevance and sophistication that journalists have brought to the crisis and its consequences. Every member of a local news company is serving their community. …

An enduring theme of American journalism is that it helps move us off the sidelines, get involved, demand action. In these confusing times of crisis, it’s useful to remember that journalism is part of the democracy toolkit, and we need not feel powerless.

I wish I could endorse 100 percent of that statement. But too many in the media refuse to admit that their previous work might not have been connecting with their readers. (Recall my list of reporter engagement, or lack thereof, where they work.) The problems of the media are not merely due to shrinking advertising base or corporate ownership, even though advertising has been shrinking thanks to the Internet, and the managers of big media companies don’t always make the right decisions.

There has, for one thing, been too much commentary (in print or online, particularly on Twitter) from reporters whose commentary brings into question their objectivity. The corollary is the arrogance of some reporters who bristle whenever they are questioned by their readers. (That may be more a personality flaw than a flaw in the profession. Everyone needs thicker skins, including reporters, who you’d think would be immune to the slings and arrows of contrary comment.)

 

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