In last month’s column, I wrote about the new online news publication Nebraska Examiner and said it was part of the States Newsroom nonprofit network of state-based media outlets. I went on to say States Newsroom reportedly had received funds from a foundation with ties to billionaire George Soros. I based the statement on an article I found online, though I’d heard the Soros rumors from a number of other people with connections to the news business.
Within a day of the article being posted online, the Examiner’s editor, Cate Folsom, pointed out that the article I cited was baloney and that a PolitiFact fact check also had claimed the article was false. After I found the PolitiFact item, I went online and added a note to the column saying such, and added that Folsom said States Newsroom and the Nebraska Examiner have not received funding from George Soros.
A reporter from the Examiner also contacted me, saying my column might dissuade potential donors from supporting their fledgling news organization, and I have to agree. Imagine a member of the Trump cult connecting a so-called liberal activist like Soros to the Examiner. The loudest “Harumph” in the world would be heard, followed by an exclamation of “Fake news!“
Such an affiliation would definitely hold sway on where I spend my hard-earned charitable dollars. I would be much more likely to donate to a Soros-funded (through third-party foundation) news publication than, say, a Ricketts-funded publication or a Trump-funded publication.
When it comes to the business of news gathering and reporting, we live in desperate times. It costs a whole lot of money to run a real newsroom that actually pays a professional, journalism-schooled staff of reporters a living wage. So if a foundation is created that supports freedom of the press and if a billionaire financially supports said foundation and then that foundation offers a grant to the nonprofit news organization, should that organization turn up its nose and say, “No thanks”?
That’s a question that eventually will have to be answered by most of these start-up online news publications in this era when people no longer want to pay for anything they acquire digitally — be it music, movies or reporting. If you’re not selling subscriptions or advertising, the money has to come from somewhere.
In a complete and utterly unassociated activity, Mr. Moneybags Soros was among a group of folks, including fellow billionaire Reid Hoffman, that last October created Good Information Inc., a public benefit corporation whose mission includes investing in local news companies, according to Axios. The group is run by former Democratic strategist Tara McGowan. From the Axios article: “Although backed and launched by progressives, McGowan says the group could make investments in entities across the political spectrum so long as their editorial standards support fact-based information.”
Sounds like a good mission, but likely not good enough for States Newsroom organizations like Nebraska Examiner, where even a hint of accepting that kind of funding could taint its reputation as being unbiased. I wonder if accepting a donation from a liberal like me also would taint the Examiner’s rep.
The underlying fear is that it’s only a matter of time before self-appointed Citizen Kanes take over all the newsrooms. Just turn on Fox News and see what could happen, right Mr. Murdoch?
Billionaire influence is now on the verge of bleaching into social media (though with Zuckerberg, many would say it already has). As of this writing, super-billionaire space cowboy Elon Musk has made a $43 billion offer to buy Twitter, which has everyone in a tizzy. Musk is concerned about who decides what will be allowed to pass through that social media fire hose. He’s implied that if he took over, he’d support an “anything goes” policy. And that, of course, would likely mean the return of @realDonaldTrump.
The problem has never been Trump tweeting his avalanche of bullshit. It’s been the other media outlets amplifying every one of his tweets, giving credence to his message even as they say — over and over again — that his message is bullshit. Amplification can legitimize false reporting in people’s minds, and that was exactly what the Examiner was concerned about when I echoed a report that had been proven false.
The Examiner continues to make waves with its reporting. It broke the story about accusations against Trump-endorsed candidate for governor Charles Herbster, a story that was picked up days later by the New York Times, which cited the Examiner report.
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.