[OPINION] Billionaires can seem like saviors to media companies, but they come with risks

Time was part of a media empire created by Henry Luce, who amassed a fortune and influence thanks to his publications./Credit/Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

 

By David Gelles | The New York Times

(Editor’s note: Opinion pieces are published for discussions purposes only.)

Roughly a century ago, men like William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer and Henry Luce dominated the media landscape. These moguls built their publishing empires and used them to intimidate rivals, espouse favored causes and settle scores.

Today, members of a new Gilded Age are again in control of many of the country’s most venerable media outlets. Only now, it is tech entrepreneurs, casino magnates and hedge fund billionaires who are seizing control of the press, simply by writing a check.

In the most recent transaction, Marc Benioff, the founder of the software company Salesforce, bought Timemagazine on Sunday for $190 million in cash.

With the deal, Mr. Benioff joined an elite club of relatively new press barons that includes the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post; Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and the head of the Emerson Collective, who acquired a majority stake in The Atlantic;and Michael R. Bloomberg, who owns Businessweek and Bloomberg News.

At a moment when many print publications are struggling to survive, the largess of a wealthy owner can seem like a godsend. But there are also fresh concerns, some based on recent experience, that these individuals are assuming an unhealthy amount of influence.

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