Hold me, public

I recently wrote a fortune.com piece keyed to the Santa Barbara newspaper mess. It was headlined “Why being publicly held is best,” and was mainly a dig at the more or less constant complaints one hears that U.S.-style publicly traded corporations are inevitably short-term-focused, environment-destroying, employee-exploiting beasts. It was certainly not my best work, but because it was at least tangentially about the media, Jim Romenesko linked to it yesterday on his much-read site. And because of that, I got an e-mail today from the people at the NPR show On the Media. Their interview with just-resigned Santa Barbara News-Press editor Jerry Roberts had fallen through, and they were wondering if I’d talk to them. I find radio interviews to be almost always a pleasure (you get to talk for so long, compared with TV), so I said yes, of course.

This leads to a couple of observations. First is that, in this Age of Romenesko, it’s incredibly tempting to write about journalism, because you know that if you do, Romenesko will link to your work and many of your fellow journalists will see it and put you on their radio programs (or offer you jobs or whatever). The other is that, the more and more I thought about it, the less comfortable I was in recommending public ownership for newspaper companies. My fortune.com essay was mainly an attempt to extend the lessons of the News-Press to the business world in general. And I do still believe that Wall Street is pretty good at sensing impending trouble, which is exactly what investors in newspaper companies have been doing lately. But so many of the world’s greatest newspapers are not at the mercy of public markets that there’s got to be something to the idea that insulating them from financial-market pressures can be a good thing.

Anyway, my very muddled observations on the subject will be aired nationwide this weekend. Check here for local listings. (You can also eventually listen at the On the Media site.)

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