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When Newspapers Act Like Banks, Communities Suffer

“Why not occupy newsrooms?” That’s the question posed by David Carr, writing in The New York Times about the obscene salaries and bonuses (tens of millions of dollars in some cases) paid to newspaper executives in compensation for “picking the carcass clean.”

Take two examples, starting with Gannett’s Craig A. Dubow, who took the stock price of the company, which owns USA Today and is America’s largest newspaper publisher, from $75 to $10 while firing 20,000 employees. Retiring with plaudits from the board, Dubow will have to make do with a meager sum — by Saudi royalty standards.

Mr. Dubow walked out the door with just under $37.1 million in retirement, health and disability benefits. That comes on top of a combined $16 million in salary and bonuses in the last two years.

Turn the page to the Tribune Company, which owns the Los Angeles Times and is America’s second-largest newspaper publisher. Tribune entered bankruptcy in 2008, a devastating blow for what remained of the company’s rank and file employees — the people who actually report and edit the news that goes into the newspaper. But Trib executives have little to fear, as Carr explains:

Over 4,000 people in the company lost their jobs, and the journalistic missions of formerly robust newspapers it operates — including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun — have been curtailed. And even though Randy Michaels and some of his corporate fraternity brothers who operated the company into bankruptcy are gone, more than 600 managers who were there while the company cratered remain.

Not only do they have jobs while so many others were sent packing, but the remaining leadership will be eligible for a bonus pool from $26.4 million to $32.4 million under the current plan.

This isn’t just about those poor ink-stained wretches. Newspapers are community service organizations. The corporate carcass pickers are leaving behind communities that lack for trustworthy reporting, political oversight and the kind of in-depth local coverage that bare-bones newsrooms and CNN aren’t going to provide.

— Peter Z Scheer

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