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The Business of the News Business | The Nation

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The Business of the News Business

Over the last month PBS's Frontline has produced a terrific series on the future of news. Last night's third-part, on the business of journalism, was particularly compelling--and alarming.

No longer is reporting judged and valued by the people who read and create good journalism. What increasingly matters is what Wall Street cares about: the bottom-line.

Take one example featured in last night's show: the Los Angeles Times. For most of its history the paper was owned by the Chandler family, which generously supported it. In 1995 the Chandler's relinquished their publisher role and the paper entered a period of turmoil. The Tribune Company of Chicago bought the paper in 2000 and installed John Carroll, formerly of the Baltimore Sun, as editor, and Dean Baquet, formerly of the New York Times, as managing editor.

Between 2000 and 2006, the LA Times won 13 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other paper. It posted 20 percent a year in operating profits. And still that was not enough for the Tribune Company, which mandated more and more cuts in the paper's budget and workforce to appease restless shareholders. "You have to make more money every year than you made the last year in order to keep the shareholders happy," says Carroll.

By last year, Carroll had had enough and resigned in protest. Baquet was promoted, but after resisting further cuts, he too was shown the door. "There's tension between my view of my world and the people who own newspapers," Baquet says.

He rightly believes that good journalism should be a "public trust." The Frontline special reinforces why. The entire series is online. I strongly recommend you check it out.

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