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Newspaper Barons Resurface
The New York Times | April 10, 2012 | 03:30 PM EDT

Does all this smart money see something the rest of us have failed to? Some hidden, unlocked riches in these distressed assets? No. In each instance, the buyer was motivated, at least in part, by the fact that the newspapers faced an existential threat: but for the new owners and their deep pockets, they might go away.

The benefactors also stand to benefit in ways that may not go directly to the bottom line, but have significant value. We will give the Oracle of Omaha a bye here because no newspaper can touch him — newsprint spitballs against a battleship — but in San Diego, Mr. Manchester has been frank about using the paper to prosecute a pro-development, pro-new-stadium agenda.

Mr. Sussman is now wed to both a member of Congress and one of the largest newspapers in Maine, so the conflict there is manifest. And the men involved in the Philadelphia purchase have received frequent and sometimes rugged coverage from the papers there.

At this point, the media columnist is supposed to make tsk-tsk noises about editorial independence. But that moralism is a luxury that mostly belongs to another era, when newspapers had functional monopolies and everyone was dying to get their hands on them. Now selling a newspaper is akin to peddling a used Humvee, a hulking beast that has lost relevance in a changed landscape.

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