When billionaires decide it might be fun to run a newspaper (or a magazine)

Marc Benioff's purchase of Time is only the latest symptom of a spreading trend — led of course by Jeff Bezos

By Jim Naureckas

Published September 24, 2018 8:00AM (EDT)

Marc Benioff;  Jeff Bezos (AP/Photo montage by Salon)
Marc Benioff; Jeff Bezos (AP/Photo montage by Salon)

This article originally appeared at FAIR.org. Used by permission.

The announcement that Time magazine would be bought by software CEO Marc Benioff highlighted the growing trend of billionaires buying up media outlets. While media moguls have always been wealthy — with press barons (Rupert MurdochMichael Bloomberg, Donald Newhouse, etc.) still well-represented on Forbes’ running list of the world’s billionaires — what distinguishes this new breed of press magnate is that they bought their media properties with fortunes made in other industries.

Some, like Benioff, come out of the tech industry; tech tycoons like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, eBay’s Pierre Omidyar and Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs have profited from a tech boom (or bubble) that gives them plenty of cash to spend. Others come out of the financial sector, which has doubled its share of the U.S. economy over the past 70 years. Real estate developer Mort Zuckerman — who owned The Atlantic from 1980 to 1999 and the Daily News from 1993 to 2017, and still owns US News & World Report, which he bought in 1984 — was a harbinger of non-media money coming into the media sector.

Wherever their money comes from, the new moguls’ interest in buying up outlets is generally less the direct profit involved — media profits are typically declining as the old local monopoly model erodes — and more the power that comes with control of the public conversation. Being a latter-day Citizen Kane is a personal ego boost, to be sure, and provides a platform for an individual ideology — whether it’s Philip Anschutz’s social conservatism or Omidyar’s civil libertarianism.

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But it also can be a tool to advance more personal interests: Sheldon Adelson is a fervent supporter of Israel and its Likud Party, but he bought a Las Vegas paper when it was running critical coverage of a lawsuit that threatened to shut him out of the gambling business. Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post instantly made him the most powerful media figure in the nation’s capital — a handy position to be in when your company is seeking multi-billion-dollar government contracts.

Whatever the motivation, billionaires buying up media is another step toward oligarchy, as a handful of super-wealthy individuals assume power over crucial news outlets, both locally and nationally.

Research: John McCullough

Billionaire Media Owned Net Worth Source of Wealth
Jeff Bezos Washington Post $112 billion Amazon
Warren Buffett Buffalo NewsOmaha World-HeraldBusiness Wire, etc. $84 billion Finance
Sheldon Adelson Las Vegas Review-Journal $39 billion Casinos
Laurene Powell Jobs The Atlantic $19 billion Apple
Philip Anschutz Weekly Standard, Washington ExaminerOklahoman,
Colorado Springs Gazette
$13 billion Oil
Pierre Omidyar The Intercept $11 billion eBay
Patrick Soon-Shiong Los Angeles Times,
San Diego Union-Tribune
$8 billion Biotech
Marc Benioff Time $5 billion Tech
Mort Zuckerman US News & World Report $2.8 billion Real estate
Glen Taylor Minnesota Star-Tribune $2.6 billion Printing
John Henry Boston Globe $2.5 billion Finance
Joe Mansueto Inc., Fast Company $2.5 billion Finance

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Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org, the website of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Since 1990, he has edited Extra!, FAIR’s print publication, now a monthly newsletter. He is the co-author of "Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error," and co-editor of "The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the ’90s." Follow him on Twitter: @JNaureckas.

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