Warren Buffett has come to rescue local journalism in Richmond, Va.
In what can only be considered an act of charity, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is paying $142 million in cash for all the newspaper properties of Media General Inc. except for the Tampa, Fla., group. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the only daily newspaper in our city, is part of Media General.
I say it’s an act of charity because Berkshire Hathaway is unlikely to make much money off of its investment. Like most newspapers these days, the Times-Dispatch is bleeding money. Media General’s print revenues last quarter were down 8.3 percent from a year ago. Broadcast revenues, however, were up 12 percent, which is why Media General has decided to focus on that part of their business.
Apparently, Buffett believes some newspapers are too important to fail. “In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper,” he said.
As someone who was educated and started out in the newspaper business, I agree. While the significance of the Times-Dispatch’s voice in Richmond has waned in recent years — thanks primarily to staff and resource cuts right down to the bone — it is still a place where Richmonders go to get informed, make their views public and argue with each other.
I started my career for what was, at the time, one of the best weekly newspapers in Virginia. The Herald-Progress also served a market that had a strong sense of community. In its coverage of town council, the board of supervisors, school board, local politics, religion, high school sports and even in its feature stories about local events and colorful characters, the Herald-Progress was the community’s conscience and voice of reason. It served the most noble roles of the Fourth Estate, acting as a public record, objective observer and shaper of public opinion.
We need newspapers.
In fact, I took my appreciation for the significant role of local journalism into the corporate world with me. My first job in employee communications was that of newsletter editor in a manufacturing plant of 2,100 people. I shaped that newsletter in the mold of a community newspaper. Every community, even a corporate one, needs good journalism.
So, while Buffett’s investment might not make a lot of financial sense, I’m thinking one of the world’s richest men is in it for more than making a buck. It must be nice to have the kind of money that allows you to do something just because you think it’s right.
Filed under: Communication Jobs | Tagged: Berkshire Hathaway, community journalism, Fourth Estate, Herald-Progress, journalism, local journalism, local news, newspaper industry, print journalism, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Warren Buffett |