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By Gina Channell Wilcox

The business of news

Uploaded: Jan 8, 2014

Rep. Henry Waxman of California's 33rd District did something that amazes me, intrigues me and irks me all at the same time.

Waxman has sent two letters to Tribune Co. CEO Peter Liguori, with the most recent complaining that company is placing "onerous conditions" on one of its newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, as the company is restructuring to make its newspaper division a stand-alone operation. The conditions, which include the Times borrowing money to pay a dividend and requiring rent be paid to the Tribune Co., is putting profits before the "interests of the public in viable local newspapers," Waxman wrote.

Announced in November, the restructure was necessary, according to the company, because of the decrease in advertising revenues. The restructure has already resulted in the elimination of 700 jobs at the Tribune's newspapers and the consolidation of some departments such as advertising and circulation.

I'm amazed that a politician is concerned about the health and viability of a newspaper. Journalists are supposed to be the "watchdogs" and protect the public's interests. Helen Thomas, the respected wire service reporter who spent decades in the White House press corps, said, "We don't go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers." I admire Waxman, however, for trying to keep the dogs that are watching him healthy; to me this shows confidence that he can withstand scrutiny.

This intrigues me because it appears Waxman is looking at the LA Times ? and newspapers and news websites in general I suppose ? as a public service as opposed to a business. While there is an "invisible wall" between the editorial and advertising departments, advertising sales bring in a majority of the revenue for most newspapers and websites, and all the revenue for some. While nobody gets into the news reporting business for the money, professional journalists need and expect to make a living. Between the horrible hours, the stressful deadlines, the negative perception of journalists, and the endless criticism, reporting is not necessarily fun and certainly not as glamorous as some 20th century movies would have people believe. So, my question is: who owns the local newspaper? Is it a business, or is it a public service? I can see how it can be both, but I can't see it only as a public service. If it's not a business, and it's not run as a business, who pays the journalists?

The Tribune folks are meeting with Waxman to go over the restructure plan, which, in my humble opinion, is pretty magnanimous. But what irks me is that Waxman finds it easy to criticize the Tribune Co. and complain about how they are running the business, but what will he do to help keep the business viable and able to employ professional journalists to serve the "interests of the public?"