I'm trying to figure out which is worse: The right-wing Koch brothers apparently showing some interest in the Tribune Co. papers (including the LAT) or the outrage among left-wingers about the brothers even being allowed to bid on said properties. Any sale to the Kochs still seems unlikely (maybe a one-in-five chance), but the little devil in me would almost like to see the Tribune guys do the deal and have all those self-anointed arbiters of journalistic propriety raise holy hell. (The most hilarious suggestion comes from the Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein, who says that all newsroom employees should threaten to walk off their jobs if the new owners don't commit to quality journalism, whatever that's supposed to be. "Without the journalism, there are no readers," writes Pearlstein, who obviously has never heard about Sunday ad inserts that, sad to say, are the main reason many people buy the paper. Yeah, right Steve, I'm sure the threat of a mass exodus will do the trick.) Of course, there's no telling what the Kochs might do or how other bidders might respond. Much of the speculation - most of it uninformed - has focused on whether the Tribune board is intent on selling the papers in a single package deal as opposed to unloading them piece by piece. But it needn't be an either/or proposition. There might be two or three packages, with different bidders going after different assets. We just don't know. What we do know is that the business case for the Kochs entering the newspaper business is darn near nonexistent and the political/ideological case is shaky at best. It's not been that great a bet for right-winger Doug Manchester, who bought the San Diego U-T. Voice of San Diego. CEO Scott Lewis tells Ken Doctor that "people are dismissive of the U-T. 'That's just Manchester,' they say."
"I think I've seen the humbling of Papa Doug," he says. "CEO John Lynch thought he could tell people, 'This is how it is going to be.' They are humbled in what they can achieve. It's a lesson in how newspapers are not that powerful anymore. It's like a journalist who writes a front-page story and thinks the world is going to change, and nothing happens. We all go through that."
If Papa Doug's impact on San Diego has been mixed, we've got to wonder how the Kochs buying Tribune papers would go. It's hard to imagine the Kochs respecting the traditional division between news reporting and the opinion pages. They're using to having their way -- a way paved by wealth -- but the San Diego experience shows how that can be problematic. There are always those pesky journalists and paying readers that may get in the way.