Charles and David Koch are reportedly considering buying the Tribune Company (owners of the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and others) prompting a great Garance Franke-Ruta piece in the Atlantic on why big city newspapers’ editorial staffs invariably lean left.
That said, I don’t see this as reason for skepticism about the merits of the Koch venture. It’s actually why it makes sense. The “liberal media” is, as Franke-Ruta argues, largely a product of the free market. Certain niches — talk radio and cable television — are very friendly to a conservative editorial product but others are not. Which is exactly why what conservative media needs is a couple of extremely rich people to buy a newspaper company and lose a ton of money building a great conservative media product.
After all, the big problem with right-leaning media in America isn’t that it doesn’t exist. It’s that it’s terrible. There is a large audience out there that’s so frustrated with the vile mainstream media that it’s happy to lap up cheaply produced content from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and you can make lots of money serving that kind of thing up. By contrast, to build a great media company that’s top-to-bottom staffed with conservatives is going to be very expensive. The possible talent pool of great reporters is tilted toward liberals. The talent pool of great photographers and graphic designers is probably even more tilted toward liberals. There’s no real economic point to doing hiring great conservatives. Is your much worse cost structure going to get you a larger audience than Rush? No, it won’t. It’s a bad bet.
But the Kochs have plenty of money. If they want to see it happen, they can make it happen. And America would be better off for it.
Matthew Yglesias is Slate’s business and economics correspondent. His most recent book is “The Rent Is Too Damn High.”