Gregory Favre

Dear God, how can papers survive?

Published: Sunday, Apr. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3E

Dear God, the Ultimate Editor:

It's hard to imagine that you might even consider reading a letter from an old journalist, much less acting upon it, especially given the millions of requests you receive each day; and so many are much more important than mine.

But just in case you find yourself with a spare moment and you are tired of emails and tweets and texts and want to relax while reading something on paper, here goes: First, let's review what happened that sparked this letter. Tribune Co., once a proud and effective newspaper owner, was bought out several years ago by a Chicago investor named Sam Zell. Unfortunately, under Zell the company was led pell-mell into disaster, and Tribune was headed toward bankruptcy.

Hundreds of talented journalists were left on the sidewalks, once-excellent newspapers were nearly inaudible echoes of their previous existence, and a company that took its first baby steps in 1847 when the Chicago Tribune printed its first edition staggered as if it had been mugged on the streets of its city. I admit that the Chicago Tribune was never the "World's Greatest Newspaper" as its slogan brags, but even at its worst it was pretty good.

Now, the company is in the hands of creditors who want some of their money back, which is fair, and that's why this letter is urgent. The Tribune's newspapers – all eight, including the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – are up for sale. And two of the suspected bidders are Rupert Murdoch, he of the phone-hacking shame in England, and the Koch brothers, David and Charles, they of the huge investments in right-wing causes.

I should stop here for a disclaimer. In 1984, when Murdoch bought the Chicago Sun-Times, I was the managing editor and, along with about seven dozen colleagues, I chose to turn down an opportunity to remain because Murdoch's journalism of unwarranted privacy invasion and headless-body-found-in-topless-bar stories was simply too hard to digest. We all went elsewhere. I was blessed to end up in Sacramento.

As Mike Royko, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Sun-Times who left to go to the Tribune, wrote, a Murdoch paper "isn't something a self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in."

So now you can understand our dilemma. Will it come down to a choice between Murdoch and the Kochs? Or is there someone else out there to rescue readers, most especially in Los Angeles and Chicago, two of America's great cities? God, say it is so.

Yes, newspapers everywhere are not as strong or as influential as they used to be. The old idea that print journalists were the gatekeepers and readers had to pass by us to get their news is long gone. And rightly so.

News dissemination is instant now, and more often than not it is even correct. Please don't judge us by the performances of CNN and the New York Post during the horrible Boston bombing. CNN, in a vain attempt to be "first" by a few seconds, reported that a "suspect" was in custody when it was absolutely false.

The Post, which, by the way, is owned by the same Murdoch we have been discussing, was much worse. It ran a picture of two "suspects" on Page 1. The problem? They were not the suspects. And that was followed by other critical errors.

So, I humbly ask, where does that leave those of us who still love newspapers and want them to serve their communities and not be loudspeakers in their news pages for their owners' political and social views?

Murdoch or the Kochs?

If you are reading this letter, Dear God, please help us.

Your humble servant,

Gregory Favre

Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Bee and vice president of news for The McClatchy Co.

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