E.W. Scripps and the Business of Newspapers by Gerald J. Baldasty
From Publishers Weekly
"Do not be afraid to be called a skin flint or miser. You can acquire no more valuable reputation," Edward Willis Scripps told the business manager of his San Francisco Daily News. He never tolerated "frills" for his staffers, which in his mind included toilet paper, ice in the summertime and even pencils. But his formula worked. From 1870 to 1908, Scripps built an empire of small, cheaply run newspapers that shared Scripps-based wire copy (an innovation in its time), aimed at a working-class readership and shut down in an instant when their market faltered.

Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy by Robert Waterman McChesney
If we believe that an informed populace is an integral part of a successfully active democracy, writes Robert W. McChesney, then the commercial basis of U.S. media, in which a substantial number of media outlets are owned by a handful of corporations, is definite cause for concern. When corporations control the flow of information, he suggests, they will inevitably do so in a way that promotes their own interests over those of the citizenry. From an analysis of the corporate influence over the 1934 Communications Act to a discussion of how media convergence might kill off hope of the Internet bringing about a revolution, he debunks the myth of an objective, liberal media and emphasizes the belief that issues of media ownership should be treated as matters of public policy rather than strictly business.

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman, Noam Chomsky
An absolutely brilliant analysis of the ways in which individuals and organizations of the media are influenced to shape the social agendas of knowledge and, therefore, belief. Contrary to the popular conception of members of the press as hard-bitten realists doggedly pursuing unpopular truths, Herman and Chomsky prove conclusively that the free-market economics model of media leads inevitably to normative and narrow reporting. Whether or not you've seen the eye-opening movie, buy this book, and you will be a far more knowledgeable person and much less prone to having your beliefs manipulated as easily as the press


Note: Anyone who wishes to become a columnist
or submit a column or a response to a column
please contact Alllie.

It Just Isn't Fair

By Alllie

I used to work in a three-person office. Because of transfers and vacations, some days I would end up alone. I couldn't really do the work of three people so this guy from another office would be detailed to help out. When the supervisor wasn't around on weekends, he would generally sit down and read the newspaper for hours. This despite there being lots of work, more work than I could do by myself. But I'd have to try. One day, during the first two hours, he stayed in the office about 25 minutes and 15 of that he spent reading his Sunday paper. The other hour and 35 minutes he just disappeared and I had to do all the work. I was so angry I threatened to report him. He ignored me and left again. If I had reported him, management probably would have been madder at me for making trouble than at him for not working. They were like that. If two people were assigned to the same task and one of them worked and one didn't and then the first complained, supervisors would generally tell the complainer to mind his/her own business, that they were doing the supervising, not him/her. Then management would wonder why formerly good employees became bitter and burned out. When this happened to me I told myself I needed to get my mind right, to learn to accept it and that I wasn't perfect either. But I couldn't. I felt that since I got paid the same as that guy I shouldn't have had to carry my load and his too. It just wasn't fair. Thinking about that got me to thinking about one of the sources of this conflict, Memphis's morning paper, Memphis's only daily paper, what I used to think of as our local version of the Nazi Gazette, The Commercial Appeal.

The June 13-19, 1991 issue of weekly The Memphis Flyer had an article about the profitability of The Commercial Appeal, information revealed by "discovery" in a suit they had against the much larger paper. If I remember rightly the suit claimed the CA was trying to put them out of business. Because the CA was privately held some of the information had not been previously known and only became available because of the court case. At that time Scripps-Howard's, which owns the Memphis Publishing Company and The Commerical Appeal, had a pretax profit margin of 36.1% and was taking about $40 million a year out of Memphis from The Commercial Appeal (In 1988 that $40 million was 21% of all Scripps-Howard's income. If that's still true they would now be making $101 million a year in Memphis.), which gave it a rate of return on equity of about 69%, an enormously high rate, don't you think? Imagine if your bank account gave you that kind of return. All that money and all the other money made by The E. W. Scripps Company, $199 million in 1990 ($481million in 2002), and guess where it went? It's paid out as stock dividends with 75% going into a trust for the four grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren of the founder, E. W. Scripps (probably more of them now). All that money, every year, given to those 32 people for doing nothing, for never having done anything.

I was a Commercial Appeal paper-carrier for two years. Paper-carrier is not a job for kids anymore. A daily newspaper is too big, mostly because of ads, for someone on a bike to carry many of them, especially on a Sunday. Now days carriers have to be adults with cars. Before a carrier can deliver his papers he has to fold them and, on wet days, bag them. It takes a while when you're doing that by hand. We carriers used to hear how there was equipment for folding and bagging and when the carriers in some cities picked up their papers they would be ready to throw. But not in Memphis. I hear that now, when the paper is especially large, carriers even have to assemble the various sections themselves. The Memphis Publishing Company, which publishes The Commerical Appeal, doesn't believe in spending money to make anyone's jobs easier. "Do not be afraid to be called a skin flint or miser. You can acquire no more valuable reputation," Edward Willis Scripps told the business manager of his San Francisco Daily News. He never tolerated "frills" for his staffers, which in his mind included toilet paper, ice in the summertime and even pencils. Reading about the old miser Scripps it seems management of the company he founded hasn't changed much.

The way the money worked back when I was carrying was that carriers bought their papers from The Commercial Appeal and then resold them to their customers so The Commercial Appeal got its money whether the carrier got his or not. If customers didn't pay, the carrier still had to. Potential carriers even had to get two people to sign their bond promising that if the carrier didn't pay The Commercial Appeal, whoever signed the bond was obligated for the money. So technically carriers didn't work for or get paid by the paper. It was cheaper for Scripps-Howard that way because then carriers weren't eligible for minimum wage, had no rights, no benefits, no sick leave, no health insurance, and no unemployment insurance, not even any workman's compensation if they were hurt on the job.

I used to get up every morning at 3:30 to throw papers. I started doing it when I was broke and out of work. It was very hard. I realize now that one of the reasons it was so hard was that I was carrying someone else's load. I was carrying those 32 people around on my back, making them their money before I was even allowed to make a little for myself. Somewhere I couldn't see them they were sitting and playing and never had to do a damned thing in their entire lives. When I was out there in the dark at 4:00 in the morning in a hard blowing rain and it was 34ºF and there was no way to keep dry or warm and I ended up sick, where were they, do you think? Europe, the Bahamas, Miami? I never had them help, even for 15 minutes, when I was throwing papers in 95ºF and 100% humidity with sweat dripping in my eyes. They never gave me a hand (or even a Get Well card) when I stepped in a grass covered hole, broke my ankle, and had to keep going and finish my route and then carry it with a broken ankle the day after that and the day after that. When I got shorted by customers who didn't pay because they were told they could get the paper free for a month, did those 32 people reimburse me? No, they didn't and no other carrier either unless he/she went out and begged to the customer four or five times first. (The subscription campaigns of The Commercial Appeal were very unpopular with the carriers because they typically just got him/her stuck paying for a month of papers for someone who didn't really want a daily paper and only agreed because they thought it was free. The way it was supposed to work was the customer paid the carrier and if he was not satisfied he got a refund from the paper. In those days the way it worked for me and most other carriers was I got stuck.) Those 32 people never did a damn thing for me and never will. All they had to do was think of new ways to spend money and old ways of keeping their employees from noticing the footprints in their backs. Think of how many people they have to take advantage of to get $481 million a year. Let's see, 75% of $481,000,000 divided by 32 (probably more now)... is ...$11,273,437.50 every year for each of those 32 people, if they split it evenly. And now with the Bush Junta eliminating taxes on dividends they don't even have to pay taxes on that money or taxes on the hundreds of millions they inherit. (Do you wonder that El Dunce gets such good press coverage?) Each of those 32 people still gets more money every year than we will ever work for and earn in our entire lives. For doing nothing.

Now you may think that's too bad how carriers are treated but how does that affect you? Newspapers make most of their income, not from subscribers, but from their advertisers. Every time The Commercial Appeal charges its advertisers, those advertisers pass that charge on to you. In 1991 the E. W. Scripps Company took $40 million out of Memphis. That meant that every year they gouged about $48 out of each of the 826,330 residents of Shelby County, man, woman, and child, and that's net profit, not gross income. Every time we bought groceries or an appliance or anything advertised in the paper, we were paying a tax that went to those 32 people and we paid that tax whether we bought a newspaper or not. That tax not only went to support those parasites but to promulgate ideas and policies that were in their self-interest, even if they were against the interests of 99.99% of their readers.

The Commercial Appeal was very conservative. The editor at that time was Lionel Linder and every day he ran editorials and columns claiming that the solution to the economic problems of the administration of the elder Bush was more tax cuts for the rich. Or a cut in the capital gains tax. Since I'm working class person capital gains is something I'm not too familiar with but I think it's the money you would make if you bought stock or a house for a million dollars and ten years later sold it for ten million dollars. You (well, not you actually, actually a rich person) would have to pay taxes on nine million dollars. Rich people were desperate to have the capital gains tax cut so they could sell their overinflated stocks while paying little, if any, taxes. (Bet the drop in the stock market has something to do with the cut in capital gains by the Bush Junta. Many of the rich sold and got out and without paying much in the way of taxes.) What I'm trying to say is that the late Lionel Linder, who controlled what went into The Comercial Appeal, worked, directly or indirectly, for those 32 people and the agenda that he set was one to please them, to promote their interests, to tell us what they wanted us to believe, to make us think what they wanted us to think, and to promote what would profit them the most. The readers of The Comercial Appeal were not the customers. We were the product. The owners of the company and the businesses who bought ads were the customers. It was their interests and views that were represented. Not ours. It was to them that the paper catered.

In 1991 those same 32 people also owned one TV station and two radio stations in Memphis. (Now there are no limits on how much media they can own in one market. Not that there is much diversity in how the news is reported in Memphis anyway.) Think of that. And think of the other rich people who own most of the newspapers and TV and radio stations in our(?) country. How much did we know (before the Internet) that they don't want us to know? Anything? You know what they say, "Freedom of the press is for those with a press."

Think of all the other rich people who've never had to work. Rich people who we, unawares, carry around every day of our lives. People who's easy living comes from our sweat and pain. And we never know their names. They know they have to hide from us and they do. We may see their shadows but rarely even that. We see celebrities and think that they're rich when they're only working for a living while those 32 people have never done anything to earn that $11,273,437.50 a year. And there are thousands of them, hundreds of thousands of them, most of them only taking only a little from each of us until we stagger under the weight of this swarm of human fleas, till we are drained dry and weak and wonder why we are always so tired. Day by day it gets worse. They get richer and we get poorer. It Just Isn't Fair. But we're too DUMB to do anything about it.

They said something to that guy in my office who wouldn't work, that he was supposed to work too. But who will ever say anything to those 32 people, or the multitude of others, to make them work, to get them off our backs. How can we fire them?

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Jed and ItsMarty for their beta help.

© Alllie, 2003

Reader Response
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