Quietly, perhaps too quietly, the state of Alabama, through its government employee pension fund, recently became the sole owner of one of America’s largest local newspaper groups. Owning 13 such products in our own fine state, it seems that your friendly local publication (this one) is now competing directly with the $44 billion government-sponsored juggernaut.
To be fair, free markets are a good thing, regardless of the size of the gorilla with which we may find ourselves confronted. And, Retirement Systems of Alabama, the behemoth that made this recent purchase, has been in the business of buying assets beyond the typical stocks and bonds portfolio for some time. Still, can we expect government to be a direct investor in companies designed to stand against government corruption without at least raising an eyebrow?
The current political climate reflects, or some might argue has been fueled by, accusations of media bias. Certainly, contributors and editors from all points of view bring their own perspectives. Likewise, shareholders, readers, employees and owners can lean into a news gatherer’s general take. So, should we simply let government put its thumb on the scale as well? Or, can we imagine that a southern governor, with a firmly rooted and appointed board of loyalists, will be tempted to urge “his” newspapers to run stories friendly to his campaign for higher national office – or to suppress stories of his corruption – or to tout his glory in public policy advancement? How will these journalists challenge, or support, public employee unions without considering their year-end bonus?
The notion of a separation between church and state is firmly rooted, if often debated, in our national discourse. Should the same apply to a separation between our government and the Fourth Estate? If collusion between candidates and the press is bad, what can one think of the direct ownership of it?