BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York. This is all On The Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone.
CARDI B: Hey ya. I just want to remind you because it's been a little bit over three weeks, OK? It's been a slow build but three weeks.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We begin with Cardi B.
CARDI B: Trump is now ordering federal government workers to go back to work without getting paid.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The rapper's Instagram video has over 11 million views and counting.
CARDI B: This is crazy, like our country is in a hellhole right now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Stephen Colbert weighed in too.
STEPHEN COLBERT: We have now hit day 26 of the government shutdown and vital services are being threatened. For instance, I've run out of shut down jobs.
STEPHEN COLBERT: We, we might have to dip into the national reserve. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If only we had more reserves of maturity to dip into. The fight over the border wall deteriorated further as missives flew between Capitol Hill and the White House.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump denying a military jet for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is reportedly set to head out of the country for a meeting with foreign allies. This, after Speaker Pelosi called to postpone the state of the Union address. All of this--[END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But the State of the Union seems years away. Meanwhile, thousands of unpaid federal workers continue inspecting our food, securing our air travel and sending tax refunds. Many are relying on the compassion of landlords, local restaurants and even their places for food. In past shutdowns, the press focused on the inconvenience to tourists.
MALE CORRESPONDENT:At Great Falls in Virginia, the closed sign turns visitors away at the front gate. In West Virginia, the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is closed to history buffs. [END CLIP].
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But the longest shutdown in history is different. Now we're hearing about all kinds of hurt from Alabama--.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: There are several Alabama programs that could be affected if the federal government does not fully reopen. For instance, the Wake program provides nutritional help for women, infants and children.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: --to Nevada--
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: If the valley loses public housing funding we could face a huge problem.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: --to Connecticut
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: New at noon,FAA and TSA workers at Bradley International Airport have gone four weeks without a paycheck. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Thanks to robust reporting, both inside Washington and coast to coast, we've been schooled in just what the government does–and what happens when it doesn't.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Homeless shelters, they get money from HUD. Domestic violence shelters, sexual assault programs.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Services the federal government is obligated to pay to Native Americans under treaty rights. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When our government starts to buckle, for real, the importance of local reporting can no longer be ignored or denied. But that vital sector of our republic has been undergoing its own agonizing sort of shut down for decades.
BOB GARFIELD: This week many of those reporters learned of a new familiar threat to their own futures. The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Gannett, the local news chain that owns USA Today and about 300 other papers, is the target of a hostile bid from the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. The deal isn't done and no one knows exactly what this might mean for papers like The Arizona Republic or the Appleton Post-Crescent. We can't say what Alden will do but we do know what it's done–so does Dave Krieger. For a time, he was the editorial page director of the Alden owned Boulder Colorado Daily Camera, until he wrote a post critical of his corporate overlords and was fired.
DAVE KRIEGER: The tactic that Alden uses, and it does it through its newspaper front, which is called Digital First Media, they come in once a year and they basically tell the executives of the paper what their tape is going to be. It's a little like a mob protection racket. They come in and say we're taking 20 percent of your revenues off the top. Good luck. Have a nice day. It is then up to the executives at the paper to keep the lights on. The only way to do that with revenues declining year over year, at pretty much every newspaper in the country, is to cut news resources. Originally, the Daily Camera eliminated all its clerical positions for example. So you have editors and reporters doing all the clerical work that needs to be done. It sold off the downtown office building that The Camera worked in and kept moving the staff to smaller and smaller office space. And eventually there's nothing left to do but to cut reporters. Well, there's a very dynamic community, it's university town, it's 100,000 people. There's a Google campus, there's a Twitter campus, there's all kinds of stuff going on and we just had no way to cover any of that.
BOB GARFIELD: So let's just say that Alden is not known for its commitment to local journalism and now it's after the 300 some Gannett papers. I am old enough to remember when Gannett wasn't the victimized damsel tied to the tracks, it was snidely whiplash doing the victimizing. When I worked at the Wilmington News Journal, a Gannett paper in the early 80s, the company had the reputation of slashing costs of the papers it had acquired. And I believe your former Gannett-oid yourself, aren't you?
DAVE KRIEGER: Twice over. Yeah. Gannett for many years was known, and is today known, as the McDonald's of journalism. They were the consolidator. They were all about profitability. Gannett was the bottom of the barrel. It was the worst you could do as a reporter for many years.
BOB GARFIELD: Comparing the historical Gannett of consolidation and cost cutting and everything that goes with it, was anything that that chain did even remotely comparable to what Alden has done in the properties that it owns.
DAVE KRIEGER: It was not as bad but it was comparable in the sense that Gannett sort of pioneered this concept that you could consolidate all kinds of functions that used to be the province of the individual newspaper. You didn't have, necessarily, a copy desk anymore at your newspaper because there was some central location where copy editing took place. You didn't necessarily have page designers at your newspaper because there was some central location where that took place. The delocalization of news in order to save money, that was a Gannett process. The difference is Gannett began as a newspaper company 100 years ago and it's still a newspaper company. Its interest is in keeping those newspapers alive. Alden does not care whether the papers survive. As you may know, Ken Doctor the newspaper analyst suggests that on the current trajectory, a lot of Alden properties will be dead in the water within three or four years from now. And as I say I think that's fine with Alden because they would just take the cash and move on to the next distressed asset.
BOB GARFIELD: All right so, there--there may not be a better example of sort of predatory capitalism than what we're discussing now. On the other hand, no laws are being broken and Gannett is in the position of trying to protect the fiduciary interests of its shareholders and the offer that Alden is making is significantly higher than what Gannett shares are trading for. It will be hard for them to turn this down. You know, what does that suggest? And I guess, I wonder, if you think there's anything that can be done about this?
DAVE KRIEGER: I don't want to get too sanctimonious about this but there is this famous Thomas Jefferson quote about whether, if he had a choice between a government and no newspapers or newspapers no government, he'd choose the latter. That seemed to make no sense to a lot of people. But the point he was making was self-government is impossible without an informed citizenry. And in fact, that's been the criticism of democracy over time. Most skeptics of democracy persisting for long periods of time are skeptical because they think the citizenry ultimately will be so ill informed that it is not capable of governing itself. Plato made that argument 2,500 years ago in the Republic. If capitalism is allowed to destroy local journalism in this way, that's where we're headed. And as you say, distressed asset investing has a long tradition. It is part of capitalist. Ben Graham called it cigar butt investing 100 years ago–he's Warren Buffett's mentor. So it's definitely legal and it's part of capitalism but we have never been to a point where it was about to destroy an institution that is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Is there a way to protect what our founders thought was so important from an economic system that now seems bent on destroying it?
BOB GARFIELD: What's going on with you?
DAVE KRIEGER: I appear to be retired.
BOB GARFIELD: Haha, I'm sorry to laugh but it doesn't sound as though that was your plan. It sounds like the situation in which you've unfortunately found yourself.
DAVE KRIEGER: Going out into the job market was a 60 something veteran of 40 years, in what is perceived to be a dying industry, in the newspaper industry, you know there's not a lot of interest out there in the markets. That's where we are.
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BOB GARFIELD: OK Dave, well thank you very much, I appreciate your time.
DAVE KRIEGER: You bet.
BOB GARFIELD: Dave Krieger is the former editorial page editor of the Boulder Daily Camera.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up. If you think we have gridlock, may we call your attention to Brexit.