Local journalism’s potential demise — vulture capitalists

I walked in the back Beacon entrance when I interned there. The Cannon Falls Beacon did and does mean so much to me. Since I have left, the paper has fallen to O’Rourke Media group. Photo Emma Conway

My phone dinged — it was an email from John Fogarty. He was my high school editor, speech coach and teacher turned best critic, role model and grandfather figure, so I knew the message must be good. Yet I never could have prepared for what was inside.

Fogarty had sent me a link to The Atlantic’s “A Secretive Hedge Fund is Gutting Newsrooms.” For a small town girl whose hometown paper was snatched up by a vulture capital business, this story meant the world. Companies are buying newspapers solely for profit. To protect our democracy, Americans need to pay attention.

The Cannon Falls Beacon used to be owned by the Daltons. As the print newspaper business started to slow, cuts had to be made. Towards the tail end of my internship, Mike Dalton sold the Beacon to O’Rourke Media Group.

At first, the remaining Beacon staff was excited. O’Rourke promised a website and new subscribers, even pointed to the other three newspapers they gobbled up in our area. But I knew there was more.

How could some guy from Vermont say he knew Cannon Falls within 24 hours of being there? He couldn’t. And he could never know how much the weekly newspaper meant to the town of 4,083 people.

Cuts soon followed. The reporting staff of three was reduced to one. Accountants, secretaries and digital media creators were fired until nobody from the original Beacon was left. Thoughtful feature pieces turned to Q&As, and the pages were filled with stories taken from other local papers.

The Beacon no longer belonged to Cannon Falls — it belonged to big shots trying to make a buck.

The Atlantic highlights how the beloved Beacon is not alone. The Atlantic’s story features Alden Golden Capital, a company who follows similar tactics on a much larger scale. Alden has swiped the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and the New York Daily News. Just like O’Rourke, Alden dismantles local journalism for profit.

And that is why this piece of journalism resonated with me. Not solely because of its investigative depth or beautiful construction, but because of its brutal honesty. When I finished reading the piece, I was infuriated yet inspired. The Atlantic helped me realize that even big name papers aren’t invincible.

People will always try to kill journalism, the closest institution to our democracy. But, as journalists, we can never stop defending the power of the press. As people, we cannot turn a blind eye towards local newspapers. Without them, those in power go unchecked and stories go untold.

So I’m calling on readers to see beyond themselves and look towards the stories around them. Appreciate local news. Call out vulture capital businesses like O’Rourke and Alden. Because only then will the press belong to the people.

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