I know which side of history I want to be on and it is that of family-owned newspapers and local businesses, not the Silicon Baronies.
When our history is told, the fecklessness and greed of monopolists like Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Craig Newmark will make John D. Rockefeller and WalMart’s Walton Family shine like saints.
Even if you worship at Clayton Christensen’s altar of “creative disruption” where the Barons go for absolution, we cannot ignore this fact: the vitality of small communities requires us to hold hands with those who make the Olympic Peninsula home. Whether it’s the grocer, the shoe store or the ink-stained wretches who produce the paper you are holding, it is emphatically us against those who move fast and break other people’s things.
In the last decade, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped from about 114,000 reporters, editors, photographers and videographers to fewer than 85,000. The result of that is that fewer and fewer watch dogs are keeping an eye on Congress, on state government, county courthouses and city hall. That down-trend matches the startling down-trend in newspaper revenues: more than 50% since 200, according to a Pew study.
This did not happen by accident. Craigslist was created to demolish newsrooms nationwide with a loss-leader business to make one guy, Craig Newmark, fabulously wealthy. In every zip code across the country, he makes a steady drip of income from the few ad categories for which he does charge. It’s not a triumph of engineering. It’s a triumph of accounting: unburden classified ads of those pesky news staffers and you’ll end up, as he has, with millions to donate to conscience-salving organizations ... in the nation’s major cities. Ever seen a local donation from Craigslist?
At the same time Craigslist was scraping 40% of annual revenue (what classified ads used to generate) out of local newspapers, Brin and Zuckerberg began the greatest fence operation in history, stealing the products of every newsroom and selling targeted advertising around it as though it were their own.
Their “free” products built a huge audience, which is great for Zuckerberg and Brin. Through deeply intrusive surveillance and automation that yielded temptingly low ad rates, they gutted the other significant underpinnings of newsrooms: display ads and subscription fees. Local papers shrank with the local retailers that sustained them.
I challenge you to find one charity in Jefferson County that has collected more than $200 in any given year from Amazon Smile. Ask the Jefferson County Treasurer what is collected from Amazon or Google, which drift-net money from every zip code in the U.S. but only “do philanthropy” in New York and other cities where national media coverage makes them look beneficent.
I have asked both Amazon and the Bezos Family Foundation to share with me by-zip-code data on their giving. The Foundation declined and the corporation ignored the request. Even Wal-Mart, long a target of liberal activists, is more transparent than that, posting in every store the dozens of $100 donations it makes to Little Leagues and charity fund drives in most every zip code in the country.
That’s not window-dressing. In 2015, the last year for which I could find public data, Amazon Smile donated less than $13million while Wal-Mart donated $67million in cash to local organizations and $320million worldwide. Add in donations of goods and employee time and WalMart reported $1.4Billion (with a B) in global charitable giving.
I know...Bezos promises he’s going to give away $2billion...In Seattle, where the city sought to tax him to finance a campaign against homelessness. What about all of the little zip codes where Amazon does business every day, wiping out furniture stores, clothiers and book shops? What about Quilcene and Chimacum and Port Townsend?
We all participated, shopping on Amazon and networking on Facebook, but we can now all see the extent to which those companies knew more than we did about the problems they were creating and did not solve them.
Yes, technology makes anti-social Baronies inevitable, but must we reward them?
The dollars we spend with the Barons are never circulating in our community again, while our neighbors’ businesses doggedly go on paying wages, paying taxes and paying attention to the ways they can pitch in to help out when somebody needs help.
So, when we can, maybe we should side with local communities and local newspapers and not those who are amassing enormous personal wealth by moving fast and breaking other people’s things.
Dean Miller is the new editor of The Leader.