Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Why it matters that hedge funds are destroying local journalism

Why it matters that hedge funds are destroying local journalism

The small newspapers which once brought audiences together are being subsumed into media behemoths focused only on profit

Episode Summary

Like many businesses right now, America’s news media industry is in a crisis. But what’s particularly dangerous about this crisis is that it’s one that most people don’t really know about it. A huge part of the reason why is that many journalists themselves, who are used to explaining how other parts of the world work, don’t seem to understand their own industry.

There’s a lot that’s changed about the media business in the past few decades. The internet and the idea that “information wants to be free” have seriously disrupted the news industry of course. But there’s another trend that’s had very serious implications for journalism that is mostly unknown, and that is the rise of private hedge funds that have almost completely gobbled up America’s newspapers. While that might seem like just another boring stock market story, the conglomeration of newspapers has led to massive job cuts which have in turn led to a lot of important local news being missed or being covered incorrectly.

The death of local news is a very serious problem for America and so today I wanted to talk about the situation with Margot Susca, she is the author of a new book called “Hedged: How Private Investment Funds Helped Destroy American Newspapers and Undermine Democracy.”

The transcript of audio is below. Because of its length, some podcast apps and email programs may truncate it. Access the episode page to get the complete text. The video of this episode is also available.

Related Content

Audio Chapters

00:00 — Introduction

10:22 — What hedge funds are doing to local media

16:51 — How corporate media consolidation facilitates misinformation

20:55 — The importance of local news in civic education and de-radicalization

32:06 — Newspapers didn't actually need hedge funds, they were profitable

38:32 — The nonprofit news ecosystem: A glimmer of hope

Audio Transcript

The following is a machine-generated transcript of the audio that has not been corrected. It is provided for convenience purposes only.

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: This is a complex topic, I think, and it's about finances and stocks, so [00:03:00] most people, when they hear those things, their eyes roll all the way back into their heads. But it's a serious issue. Maybe let's start with how did you get into it because it's not something that you were initially really paying a lot of attention to?

MARGOT SUSCA: I think it's it's fair and I did try to bring some narrative elements to it, but I think it's a fair point. Initially when I started doing research for the book, it was because of a question that I was asked in an interview with NBC News “Think” program that, it was not long after the FCC had eroded some media cross ownership rules and I was asked by the producer of the show about, how did I know that, I was saying, gosh, this is so terrible for democracy that you could now own a TV station or a radio station and a newspaper in the same market.

And I said, this is [00:04:00] terrible. And, this producer said, well, how do you, know it's as bad for democracy as you say? And I was thinking, theoretically, I knew as a politically economist of media, I had studied this, I had several dog eared works.

From, scholars that I had, used over the years, but I didn't really have any data to back it up. So early in 2018, I started studying the newspaper chains. I started looking at some of the, largest publicly traded newspaper chains in the United States to look at layoffs.

Specifically, I wanted to really kind of dig into the issue of layoffs. And over the course of the next several months I was doing a little bit at a time, it became very clear to me that the real story wasn't just the layoffs, but the real story, really, the institutional investors. These were the private equity firms that Controlled most of the shares of [00:05:00] the publicly traded chains but also by then, Alden Global Capital owned owned the digital first media news group newspaper chain.

So it became very clear that the story wasn't just about the chains that I was studying, and it wasn't just about these kind of effects, which I thought layoffs was one of the effects, but it was really about These institutional investors. It was about these wall street firms, but I'm about to write a business book.

I mean, this was not even a section of the paper that I would read. I would read the sports section. I would read the front section of the paper. When I was younger, I wouldn't even read the business section. So it's not, it's kind of funny to think that I would write. A book that was so heavy into, into financial issues.

And I think because I had been a journalist, I was used to having to, research subjects. And, if you looked at the bookshelf that's behind me, it's filled with texts about private equity and hedge funds. And I was very lucky that. [00:06:00] One of my good friends from college is now at a hedge fund and he was one of the first phone calls that I made, which is, what am I, where do I look?

What am I talking about? Where do I even go? And became a resource as I started. Looking at this subject. So, it is a huge issue and it is, as I, and over the next three years, it took three years and, unraveling, 20 years of what became 20 years of us securities and exchange commission documents.

Bankruptcy court documents for a number of the chains some that still exist, some that were merged into others or folded. It became this, steady kind of unraveling of, kind of what had happened to newspapers over the last, 20 years and well, yeah,

SHEFFIELD: And one of the things that you, do talk about in the book is that, the gobbling up of, newspapers and media by hedge funds. It is something that this is part of [00:07:00] a larger trend of private equity firms buying up other industries as well. And, so let's can we maybe talk maybe about the larger context of that? And when did all this stuff start happening and and maybe some of the other industries that have been affected this.

SUSCA: Yeah, so I, I learned, in the course of doing the research that this was part of what other scholars have called this period of financialization, that this wasn't just newspapers weren't just the only things that became the targets, that newspapers became the targets of a certain trend.

Group of private equity firms and hedge funds, but that there were other, other firms and other sectors that have been influenced and affected chances are, if you live in an apartment complex that it probably has a private equity connection if you're, at a major hospital chain, it probably has a private [00:08:00] equity or, have been, in a hospital.

It's probably has a private equity connection. A nurse, a major nursing home company probably has a private equity connection. It is literally in almost every industry that you can think of. That has. Had, other researchers have studied its impacts that have had dire consequences linking it to the 2008 mortgage collapse that a very small number of firms have profited very handsomely off of the destruction of, really on the backs of average Americans.

And what I was really interested in studying once it became clear over the course of. What was a couple of years of research was how this one institution that we have, which is the U. S. Newspaper market, which is meant to be a watchdog on all of these other government officials. And in some cases, industry has been really hamstrung by industries that were meant [00:09:00] to be a watchdog over.

And that's, what's really the most troubling is if it's, if we are, left with private equity influencing, we're supposed to be the watchdogs, we, the one industry that's named in the U S constitution, and if this is supposed to be really the last frontier and with the amount of influence that I was able to trace, I think it's really troubling how much influence there is.

In the U S chain market. and it grew over the time, I started doing while you were

SHEFFIELD: looking at it. Yeah,

SUSCA: that's right. From early 2018 until, from early 2018 until early 2022. And I turned in, the final draft Alden global capital bought a chain, Chatham asset management bought a chain.

And along the way there were all these communications with senators, you know I had foiled the u. s department of labor. There were a number of government agencies that were aware That were at least expressed some [00:10:00] concern. A supreme court case that you know dealt with the fcc so we essentially have what I say in the book's conclusion is a failure at every turn a regulatory a legislative failure as these chains just grew Larger and unchecked by a system that is meant to be.

A guardrail for public for the public.

What hedge funds are doing to local media

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and you mentioned some of these companies. Let's, maybe kind of talk about in detail about some of the specific ones. So, all the global capital, I think, is, the 1 that is often talked about by, if to, to the extent that people are aware of it, but for people who haven't heard of, Alden Global Capital, what is it and how much do they own?

And generally what are their business practices?

SUSCA: So Alden Global Capital owns the well now they own Tribune. So that is the Chicago Tribune. So the Orlando Sentinel. [00:11:00] And that deal went through, gosh, you're going to test me on some of the dates, I think that deal went through in late 2021, and they also, they first became owners of the Media News Group chain, sometimes used synonymously with Digital First which was a chain That includes the Denver Post and a number of other titles kind of regional newspapers.

So that puts them, in charge of, two of, I think, the, most significant regional newspaper chains are, in the country. How many newspapers they own is sometimes up for debate and I would have to, I'm not sure how many it is. I'd have to double check on what that figure is.

Of course, they own the Baltimore Sun, which they just sold, they just offloaded. To the person who owns Sinclair. And that was a hotly debated issue. So what their playbook [00:12:00] is, they started as part of Randall Smith, who was a hedge fund guy who was, I, found in a financial text was described as a profiting off of the misery of other people.

And Heath Freeman, who's the head of Alden, is described as kind of Randall Smith's protégé. And in 2017, so often newspapers get described as this tired old business. In 2017, Ken Dockter, who's kind of a newspaper writes about newspapers for Neiman described and wrote about some leaked Alden financials where he reported on Alden making $170 million in profits from the operation of its newspaper chains.

So I think it's important to note that whereas a publicly traded newspaper company, might have millions of shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ. When it comes to a hedge fund company, one of the things that happens is if you only [00:13:00] have, five people in that hedge fund, you get to share and split whatever profits exist among a very small group of investors and hedge funds like Alden Global Capital get to choose who they pick as their investors.

And it's oftentimes there's a minimum buy in that hedge funds have for their investors. They don't get to just Like, you and I probably wouldn't get to, they have a very wealthy class of investors that get to be chosen. And yeah,

SHEFFIELD: they're also not really regulated in almost in terms of who is allowed to become a member, whether it's foreign countries or, just individuals of any kind and other businesses.

And they're not required to make disclosures. They are really this black box that is buying up America's information ecosystem that is not overtly reactionary. I mean, like, that's, that really is [00:14:00] the, quintessence of the problem is that, we're, there has been a profusion of, radical far right media. Like for right now, for instance, of course everybody knows about Fox News Channel, but now there's like five alternatives to Fox News Channel that are there even further to the right. So you've got Newsmax, you've got OAN, you've got Real America's Voice, you've got Right Side Broadcasting Network, you've got Salem Media or whatever they, Salem News Channel, I believe they call it.

So there's been a profusion of these far right sources, and then at the same time, there has been kind of this massive concentration in by private equity firms of non overtly right wing media.

And then they are cutting it to the bone at the same time. Like that's one of the other, that's one of the other practices of how they get all this money from their newspapers is they lay off thousands and thousands of people.

SUSCA: Yeah. I mean, that's, it's almost inevitable. You can, the, patterns that emerge.

It's immediate that the [00:15:00] layoffs come. And, I just was reading Gannett's annual report. Gannett is not owned by a hedge fund, but its largest shareholders are some of the world's largest institutional investors. One of its largest is BlackRock, which has like 10 trillion, trillion with a T, like Tom in assets under management.

I mean, these firms have, assets under management that would rival some some countries, GDPs. I mean, these are huge, hugely wealthy, firms. And at the time of its merger with gate house, which was owned by a private equity firm, they employed 21, 000 people. When at the time, these two companies merged Thursday's annual report showed they employ now 10, 000 people.

So in, the span of four years, they have hacked more than half. Of their staff, and largely a lot of those came in the newsroom. I mean, came from people who were doing the work of democracy, who were [00:16:00] covering school boards, who were covering, the kind of county commissions, mayoral races, covering legis state legislatures.

I was reading another report. One in 10 state legislatures is covered by students today. I mean, that should shock everyone. I teach some very talented. Young people, but they're, many of them are still teenagers without that kind of institutional knowledge, to really understand, but into your point about the right wing media ecosystem and the void and this kind of lack of consideration of what happens.

The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, its Spanish language counterpart, is owned by a different hedge fund, a New Jersey based hedge fund named Chatham Asset Management.

How corporate media consolidation facilitates misinformation

SUSCA: And I just saw a friend who just left the Miami Herald a month ago. And she's, she speaks Spanish and she was talking to me about the readership at [00:17:00] El Nuevo Herald is down dramatically because there have been, there has been no investment in El Nuevo Herald since Chatham has taken over at the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

So what's happening is that she lives in Miami and she said, what's happening is El Nuevo's readership is going. To this far right am radio ecosystem that is flourishing in Miami Dade County, and it is rife, she said, with miss with misinformation and disinformation. And she said, when it comes to issues of.

LGBTQ issues and, again, we've talked about book banning and some of these other issues, it's just so alarmist and just rife with, factual inaccuracies that, her concern is that people are just not getting any Anything that even resembles, resembles any kind of fair, [00:18:00] accurate coverage.

And, that's the reality of news. If you call it the news ecosystem is without reliable local coverage, people are turning to this, to complete, complete, the, information void. Is just, it should shock all of us, really.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And like another another way that this is happening is, that there are these right wing organizations that are creating websites, which they're marketing, they're describing themselves kind of as a newspaper, but in fact, they are a propaganda operation owned by big donors or even the Republican party itself.

Of that state that they're in. And so like you've got, and there's now, a pretty, there are many states that have these things that are running in them. So there, there's a chain of things called the star. So Arizona star, Virginia star, et cetera. And then they've also got their other [00:19:00] ones as well.

And, and then of course the talk radio ecosystem is still there as well. So like all of these things are happening and it's almost like. I, feel like a lot of people who, especially, if you live in the the Ella corridor from, Boston to dc like local media there does exist and, is, has at least some, stronger foothold compared to the, in the rest of the country.

So, like, for instance, even in Southern California, so like here, I live in the Los Angeles area, which is the biggest. The, geographically the biggest metro area in the United States, second biggest in terms of population, all of our newspapers, that are like the sort of local.

So like the Long Beach Press Telegram, the Orange County Register, those are both owned by Alden Global Capital. And those, are, Papers have just become a shell of themselves. They really don't cover much of anything. And like, you pick up their [00:20:00] physical copy. It's literally like 10 pages or, they're, a section or less and like, it's, really affecting people's ability to know anything and.

We're in this situation now where if the, where in many cases, the only people that are talking about stuff are these horribly biased, reactionary extremists who are trying to shove an agenda on people like another example is. You've got this paper that's owned by the the Falun Gong cult, the the Epoch Times.

Like, now they're, they are delivering newspapers, physical copies in my neighborhood, and I'm sure a lot of people have seen this happening in their neighborhoods, that they just show up and throw it on your doorstep, whether you ask for it or not. And like, This has real impacts on people's opinions. So that's, I guess I put a lot on the table there, so feel free to pick and choose which one you

respond to.

The importance of local news in civic education and deradicalization

SUSCA: That's, listen, I mean, we should, local news, having a vibrant local news [00:21:00] newspaper in your community slows political part partisanship and it slows voter apathy. So regardless of your political affiliation It should be a bipartisan issue and I think You know that is it should be something that if you really are concerned about democracy Then it should be, something that both, liberals and conservatives care about and that, and it's, funny that you mentioned that, my dad is an MSNBC watcher and over the Christmas holiday, I was down and he was kind of, he's been kind of sick and he had it on and, I am not a cable news viewer because I just find it toxic and he had it on and it was, I was like, This, and I said to him, like, this is toxic, like, this is bizarre, I mean, this is, this is left wing Fox News, and it was just, like, this is just pumping [00:22:00] partisanship into, the living room, I mean, it's just, by design, as, it has partisanship as a feature, not a bug, and, that newspaper and his community, which he doesn't subscribe to, has been absolutely gutted. And I just think there are so many communities where, again, if you had that kind of, it used to bind people. So, where you're turning and, the other point that I would make is, there, there has been a lot of research from Columbia on these pink slime outlets, which are these kinds of hyper partisan dark money funded sites that you're talking about.

The other place is that Chevron funds. A local news site. I put that in air quotes in California. So that's the other reality is like, we're not just getting political dark money or political sites or hyper partisan cable sites that are driving a wedge places, but that we [00:23:00] have actual corporations funding sites, right?

So Chevron funding a local news site. I mean, imagine if there was, you're not going to get OSHA violations covered, by, and I'm not saying there are OSHA violations that Chevron is, has, but certainly if there were, they're not going to be covered. Imagine Chevron covering any kind of real climate change news in that community.

Never going to happen, that is also a real concern. So, I mean, this is really a time where we have to, I never believed in, in government, funded. I mean, we've always had the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Of course, the public broadcasting system, but there have been other scholars, Victor Picard at the University of Pennsylvania, who has advocated for, the return of a, a stronger publicly financed model.

And as a former journalist, I always thought, [00:24:00] Oh, well, that's going to interfere with our independence. But, after the, I finished this book and I saw Victor at a conference in October and I said, I think I'm really coming around to, to your view, which is the alternatives are just too dire to ignore.

And I'm not sure I know exactly what that would look like. There have been some others who have experimented with some plans. But, this is the continuation of this thread of hedge fund and private equity ownership of an audience that completely disengages or goes completely partisan. 10 more years of this, I think the consequences are, just almost too, almost too difficult to, even think about, and I don't think I'm being, I don't think I'm being, You're not

SHEFFIELD: exaggerating.


SUSCA: Yeah, I don't think so. I mean, I really think it's, just really dark to think [00:25:00] about, how severed. We are how polarized we are as a nation.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and it's also that the idea that of local media as a sort of a dissolver of partisanship, because, the 1 of the problems of why there's so much.

I think why there's so much depression and sort of discontent with society is that people have become, addicted to following national and international news that they have no control over themselves and that, and it's just the, these gigantic sort of morality plays, if you will, and that's, It's replaced.

It's like a soap opera of the news and you have no power over it at all. But it's also the thing that they tell you is the thing you have to obsess over. And, like, for somebody who is a [00:26:00] professional political activist or something like, obviously that's different. You may have some limited ability to do something about it.

You're just. As somebody who has a regular job, you're a teacher or, whatever, you're, a job that's not involving political activism. You really don't have anything that you can do about it. But then at the same time, there it's a nationalization and it's taking you away from things where you could.

Have an impact, which is your local community and your state and being concerned about things that are happening there, whether it's trying to get a, like, we're still at this stage where many states, they're, they, have the federal minimum wage floor as an example that, that they, that there are people who are, they would love to have a higher minimum wage, but they don't realize that they could, or that they deserve it.

And so like, and that's just one of many problems that if people were paying more attention to their local circumstances in their communities, that they could do something about it. Or, like, I mean, there's just so many things, but, yeah, [00:27:00] like, and the national press doesn't have the ability to talk about those things.

Of course they don't. Right. And you can't expect them to do it. But you could support your local your local media to do that. And they would tell you about, what's going on with that.

SUSCA: Yeah. And I,

SHEFFIELD: oh, go ahead. No, you can go ahead.

SUSCA: Well, I just, I mean, I think the issue of trust is also a huge, a huge issue, I may not trust, the CNN anchor, because they don't know me, but you know, I trusted the person who I saw, Covering that issue, or I, who I met who was gonna cover my daughter's gymnastics team being cut because the school board didn't have a budget for it.

And I, I got to know them over the course of that budget cycle, so I think that there are issues. Yeah. Because you can actually see them.


SUSCA: absolutely. So I, that's, that's, something that I've been thinking a lot about too, and you know how all of these are kind of tied.

Tied together. And but you know, I think you're what you just brought up is [00:28:00] a really good point. And, I think these local mask mandate, that became so heated these board school board meetings, people screaming about Anthony Fauci at local school board meetings.

I don't know, it just, became just fodder for, it was, I think, a signal of how, how polarized we were I don't, it's,

yeah, it's, well, it's also interesting time.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and the other, as another example of this, that besides, the decay of local media is that, or an example of the decay of local media affecting people's ability to know things that affect them directly is that with these, book bannings that, that, have been happening, especially in Florida, but not just Florida, many other localities and states that these groups that were nationally controlled and operated They would descend into school board meetings and they would be professional activists who had been trained, for extensively to know how to [00:29:00] kind of bully a school board system.

And, they've done that also to try to suppress LGBTQ teens in, schools and teachers. Just from even acknowledging that they have a spouse of the same sex or, just even basic stuff like that. And, then the local media, if they're even there at all, which in many cases they're not but if they are there, they come in and they don't know who these groups are because their staff is, extremely young, extremely untrained.

They have no political memory. And so, they just show up and they're like, Oh, well, look, here's some concerned parents who are talking about, obscene material and they have no context and they don't provide the audience anything. They don't, they have, even if they hadn't tried to actively misinform them, that's what they've done.

And this stuff like this is going to keep happening and happens every single day. Across America because of the decay of local media, [00:30:00]

SUSCA: it's such a good point and I think, it's trying to stress to students that, my journalism students that, people will actively try to, manipulate you as a journalist, from, in trying to be.

weary of that and trying to be, you know, trying to understand that from whether or not that's a, politician spokesperson, or in this case, the deliberate action of, these kinds of people who paratroop into a local event and claim that they're being affected by, a book about, Jason Reynolds book that's, in a library or, the hate you give being in the library, it's, just, astounding when that young reporter is, expected to cover.

The beat of four people because of layoffs, because a hedge fund is, won't staff, fully staff a robust newsroom. I mean, it's, a really interesting point. And that is [00:31:00] the effect that is a direct line from ownership. To an audience that is underserved by a newsroom under this kind of control.

I was talking to one of my students, a first year student from a town in New England, a small town in New England, who said that, when she was a member of like a student liaison to the board of education, she received death threats from a group. That's very similar to what you're talking about.

I mean, it's just, Imagine giving death, I mean, death threats to a 16 year old who's trying to make her community better. A community, like you're saying, who, kind of paratrooped in to try to actively go against a mask mandate in, one of these small towns. It's just, it's, just, it's mind boggling what some of these groups are doing and it's just, there's a local news ecosystem that is ill equipped to try to inform citizens about the realities of these, of, as you say, this kind [00:32:00] of power structure that exists behind it.

It's, just outrageous.

Newspapers didn't actually need hedge funds, they were profitable

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and to go back to something you were saying earlier about kind of the financialization of the economy. The, newspaper industry itself wasn't actually unprofitable. Most of these, local dailies, I mean, they went from making gigantic obscene profits to making a smaller amount of profit, but it was still profitable. And like, I, that's a, that is a fact that I think often has gotten lost when people who might defend some of these hedge funds or, giant media conglomerates, they never acknowledged that reality, that they weren't saving anything like the industry itself, obviously you had needed to make some changes and, there were mistakes in terms of training and, some business model stuff, but it wasn't in.

A, it wasn't just massive money sinkhole that they like to portray it as. It, [00:33:00] that's just something not true.

SUSCA: Someone said to me once, well, these private equity firms, they saved journalism, and I, said, well, where's the evidence of that? Where's the evidence that they saved journalism?

I just don't see that if you can, cause I'm, my thing is I, always say to people, Where is your evidence? Where is your evidence? Because I have now, 20, 000 pages of documents. I mean, I'm looking at SEC documents. I've got, bankruptcy court documents that show, annual reports, shareholder meeting, documents.

Just give me the report. Give me the record. And the favorite, someone said recently on Facebook, they said, well, I was there. They say, I was there. I was in the newsroom. I said, Okay, well, where's your, other than you being there, Bob, where was your evidence? Do you have a document or a report? Something, show me, and I think this idea again, that, newspapers used to be among portfolio winners, I mean, they, you, I had one [00:34:00] person say to me as a former editor at the South Florida Sun Sentinel he said, which was in tribunes portfolio, and he said, the only way we could have made more money, this is from, they made so much money from advertising in the late eighties and into the nineties.

He said, the only way we could have made more money is if our printing presses printed 10 bills. I mean, it was a wildly profitable business, but into the two thousands, into the two thousands. Certainly the digital transition. There were changes even in 2021. Newspapers still beat S and P 500 averages and it doesn't get discussed.

And, I start one chapter even talking about Warren Buffett who called the newspaper industry toast. And I was still like so upset about this and because Warren Buffett isn't, didn't run a private equity firm. He wasn't, he was a newspaper owner. For almost a decade. And he had been [00:35:00] a longtime investor.

We own the Buffalo news, which is for, a long time, but in a long time, investor in the Washington post

SHEFFIELD: as well, right.

SUSCA: when he owned this newspaper chain and he said, so he, he bought it and this newspaper chain, and then he sold it to Lee enterprises. And he called the newspaper industry toast.

And one of the things that got reported in the Financial Times, but didn't get reported as widely as him calling the newspaper industry toast, is that BH Finance, so the subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, when he sold his newspaper chain to Lee Enterprises, He also refinanced some debt that Lee Enterprises had to a different private equity firm and a different Wall Street bank firm.

And so what, and what's going to end up happening is that BH Finance, the subsidiary [00:36:00] of Berkshire Hathaway, is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars off of the debt. that Lee Enterprises, a different newspaper chain, has. So, he's calling the newspaper industry toast, but here, Berkshire Hathaway is also making tons of money for its shareholders off of the debt that a different, that a newspaper newspaper chain has.

So, you see, it's like people, you profit off of this, story that you're telling of a newspaper's insolvency, and it just, there's a part of me that just, as the accountability part of my title, I'm a professor of journalism, democracy, and accountability, like, it just drives me bonkers that, that can be, that narrative can be allowed to exist.

SHEFFIELD: Well, okay, so, let's, [00:37:00] of the things that are in the book that we didn't talk about. formally yet. What would, what are like one or two things that you want to make sure that we do?

SUSCA: Okay, so I, yeah, so I think that, one of the things that I would just emphasize is that, not to say that the U. S. newspaper system is a perfect system, not to say that it worked for everyone throughout American history, It certainly, I think, was the best established system that we had to provide voice for, for, communities across America to, to right wrongs, to right institutional failures.

And I think that, we're losing that system. Day, by day, weekly newspapers are closing at an alarming rate. Daily newspapers, more than 200 have closed in the last 15 years. And I think [00:38:00] that, behind those closures there are not, behind those closures, are certainly there are profit motivations.

So I think that the one thing that I would say is that, we're losing functioning system that is meant to hold government officials accountable. And I think that's a really troubling, troubling reality. And I think that it's not too late to try to get some interventions.

The nonprofit news ecosystem: A glimmer of hope

SUSCA: And one of the things that I would emphasize is that there is a growing nonprofit news ecosystem.

Even since I finished the book when I wrote finished the book, there were 400 nonprofit newsrooms in the United States. And today their number about 425 nonprofit newsrooms. So I think that this is a really encouraging sign. There's been a massive philanthropic. A commitment from the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight [00:39:00] Foundation to, give 500 million to the local news ecosystem.

Much of it will be geared toward the nonprofit news space. So I think that there are some hopeful moments for the local space. It may not be the newspaper space, and I don't think it has to be the newspaper space, but I think that. It's going to be up to citizens to try to, be active and engaged and it's not, they're going to have to be, to reach out and try to engage with some of these nonprofit newsrooms.

In their communities. Hopefully they are in their communities. And, to try to find these reputable news outlets because, the alternatives are are pretty, pretty bad.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, I agree. Well, it's been a great conversation. Margo. I I think the book is definitely something that people should be looking at, especially if you are, somebody who works in the news [00:40:00] media, like those are the people who absolutely should read this book.

You need to understand your own business and understand what's happening to it, even if it's boring and not exciting to you immediately, it eventually once you get into it, you'll realize It's a lot scarier and a lot more. To you. So at the very least, they should be reading this. And I think everybody else should be reading it too.

So, we'll encourage everybody to do that and I'll put it up on the screen. So it's the book is hedged how private investment funds helped. Destroy American newspapers and undermine democracy. And then you are also on social media over at Margot Susca. That's M-A-R-G-O-T-S-U-S-C-A for those who are listening. Thanks for being here.

SUSCA: Okay. Thanks, Matt, for having me.

SHEFFIELD: All right. So that is our program for today. I appreciate everybody for joining us for the conversation. And of course, you can get more if you go to theoryofchange.show you the full episodes with the audio video and transcript of [00:41:00] everything. And if you are a paid subscribing member, thank you very much.

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Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.