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An Express Failure

by on August 3, 2011

News of the World‘s mistake was not printing national security secrets. The disgraced ex-tabloid would have been lionized if only they had illicitly revealed information that compromised America’s security. They should have looked to gleefully dispense the same tidbits that were questionably obtained by, say, Julian Assange or a New York Times editor.

Rachel Maddow Fan Club newsletter writers still fruitlessly hope that all of News Corp will be tainted by the scummy actions at a single newspaper. To semi-inspire them, the Columbia Journalism Review featured the story of Rupert Murdoch’s failed attempt to take over what had been Buffalo’s second paper. Former Courier-Express staffer Celia Viggo Wexler celebrated their decision to not let a billionaire tyrant save both their publication and jobs:

On September 17, 1982, the newspaper guild of the Buffalo Courier-Express voted to do something no other media outlet in the U.S. had done or would do: It voted to turn down an offer from Rupert Murdoch’s News America Publishing Company to buy the failing Buffalo morning daily. The vote meant that Buffalo would be left with one newspaper, The Buffalo News. And it meant that the Courier-Express’s 1,100 employees would be out of a job.

The leader of the jobless was reporter and guild vice president Richard Roth, who’s featured in a romanticized anecdote that lovers of union thuggery would find cute:

Roth was a legend at the Courier. Big and tough—he’d once threatened a meek city editor with physical violence if he ever changed his copy again—Roth had been one of the few journalists in the country to have visited the sprawling Attica prison complex in upstate New York.

Roth now comforts the afflicted or vice versa as a journalism dean at Northwestern University’s Qatar campus, situated in a nation that is of course known as a hotbed for freedom of expression. At least he felt bad before he junked readers’ options:

“I lost a lot of sleep about that over the years, in part because a lot of people who were my friends there never did find other job,” Roth said. He also regretted that with the Courier’s closing, Buffalo was reduced to one daily newspaper.

They helped make persistent unemployment and a lack of print media competition into two of Buffalo’s signature features. And they did it for the principle of never letting a dying paper rise from its coma:

They did not want the Courier-Express, whose past editors had included Mark Twain, to be transformed into a sleazy tabloid. My colleagues and I wanted the 137-year-old daily to be remembered with dignity.

Actually, it’s not remembered much at all. And she’s entirely missing how the New York Post, which was coincidentally founded by Alexander Hamilton, is charming in its way.

Underneath their penchant for tawdriness and attempts to lure newsstand patrons is a desire to puncture bloated icons. The Post’s brand of shocking journalism may be delivered with a smirk. But their intent is to pursue the truth, or at least THE TRUTH! Still, snotty self-righteousness is more fashionable:

History will write the final chapter on Rupert Murdoch, and will weigh his impact on journalism. But as his empire is shaken by this scandal, I can’t help but continue to believe that nearly thirty years ago, all of us that September night in Buffalo, New York did the right thing.

Killing jobs and giving The Buffalo News a monopoly were the right thing? With that sort of thinking in the newsroom, maybe it’s best that the paper folded, although Uncle Rupert may have canned the sanctimonious partisans. Either way, the area is stuck with a lone print option renowned for predictable liberalism on both the front page and within virtually every column.

They get away with it because there’s no competition. The Buffalo News serves as the equivalent a single-payer system, which is bad news for those who don’t think Obamacare goes far enough.

The Express crew destroyed the opportunity to create what they thought would be a Murdoch mouthpiece. Instead, Buffalonians who want a local paper can choose either a Warren Buffett mouthpiece or nothing.

Tellingly, the historically foolish vote took place at the Statler Hotel, a Buffalo icon that struggles to return to even a shell of its former glory. Both the hotel and the meeting represent a familiarly infuriating lack of foresight in the city. The self-career killers couldn’t sense the decline as they left the great city with one paper too few.

News Corp would have created or saved an amusingly trashy option that still pursued deserving targets. But the journalists favored filling out job applications over the chance to write awesome headlines.

Depending on the reader, they took away a new favorite newspaper or a new favorite newspaper to hate. Poor Western New York leftists never even got the chance to obsessively despise it.

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