On Sunday, April 20, 2013 the New York Times published an article reporting that Charles and David Koch, billionaire industrialists and libertarian supporters, are planning to buy the Tribune network of newspapers, which include the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Orlando Sentinel. This move has prompted debate among journalists, media personalities and online about the likelihood of content bias and an emergent conservative newspaper kingdom.
The Koch brothers have long supported Republican causes monetarily through their energy and manufacturing conglomerate, Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan. Their net reaches out into the Cato Institute in Washington and they created the political action group Americans for Prosperity, which has supported grass roots Tea Party ventures and organizations, though it claims otherwise.
The Tribune only recently emerged from bankruptcy and has hired JPMorgan Chase and Evercore Partners to sell its print properties. The papers are valued at $623 million with an annual revenue of more than $115 billion. Though Koch Industries is currently, perhaps, the most attractive buyer, other interested parties involve a group of Los Angeles residents, led by Eli Broad and Ronald W. Burkle, long renowned donors of Democratic causes, but might also include Andrew Cherng, founder of Panda Express, a Republican. Rupert Murdoch has also expressed an interest, though reportedly, he is only interested in the Los Angeles Times.
Democrats are concerned that the purchase of these papers might provide a whole new soapbox platform among demographics that the Republican base often fails to attract. Besides both the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, both rated among the ten largest papers in the country, the Tribune also owns two large papers in the political battleground state of Florida – the Orlando Sentinel and Fort Lauderdale’s the Sun Sentinel. Additionally, Hoy, the second-largest Spanish newspaper in the country, could also be included in the deal.
Koch Industries might find it challenging to establish their pro-business media chain in a market predominantly held by the liberal media. While the conservative voice is welcomed in niche areas like talk radio and cable television, branching into a liberal dominated arena will prove to be costly and difficult.
Newspapers are, in effect, products of the free market. Most major newspapers are located in cities and, as any electoral map can show, most cities in America are run and populated by Democrats. And though conservative reporters like Jennnifer Rubin of the Washington Post point out that newspaper staffs have been pushed towards “more racial, ethnic and gender diversity” while avoiding “full intellectual, religious, geographic, economic and ideological diversity,” the circulation of a newspaper relies on the people it writes for. Thus, if a newspaper resides in a densely Democratic city, the social and political climate of that area will have to be reflected in its major news publications.
However, it would also be prudent to point out that, even if the Koch brothers do purchase the Tribune’s network of newspapers and all of its subsidiaries, there are some who believe that the ensuing regime change could be beneficial to American media.
Matthew Yglesias, a reporter from the online magazine Slate, contends that conservative media needs “a couple of extremely rich people to buy a newspaper company and lose a tone of money building a great conservative media product.” Yglesias argues that the average American conservative ideology is in such contrast with the liberal media that they are “happy to lap up cheaply produced content produced content from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.” Yet, if the Koch brothers are successful in not only creating their costly conservative media empire and recruiting great conservative journalist, editors and designers, Yglesia believes that “America would be much better for it.”
Whether or not Koch Industries will be taking control of the Tribune has yet to be decided or seen, but, if they do, it is safe to say that it will be a learning experience for everyone – especially the American public – involved.