A free society cannot function without vibrant professional newspapers. In light of that truism, the latest dire news for the news business — that McClatchy newspapers, publisher of The Kansas City Star and almost 30 other newspapers in 14 states across America, is filing for bankruptcy — should worry every American who cares about our democracy. In this era of politicians who too often see accurate information as the enemy, real journalism needs all the public support it can get.
The good news is that McClatchy, a 163-year-old family-owned company that also publishes The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee and a host of other legacy newspapers, says the bankruptcy won’t immediately affect its newsrooms. The bad news is, recent history indicates that will be a difficult promise to keep.
The chain’s bankruptcy plan would give it breathing room from $700 million in debt to strengthen its digital business while operating under the control of its longtime creditor, hedge fund Chatham Asset Management. Hedge fund control of newspapers is a concerning trend, given the funds’ penchant for slashing labor-intensive journalism operations to goose short-term profits. Meanwhile, the consolidation of thousands of previously separate, often family-owned newspapers under a relative handful of corporate owners raises dire questions about journalistic independence.