The Generals Of Unbridled Capitalism Turn To Crush Free Press


By Clio Chang
The New Republic (6/23/17)

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, a documentary about the death of Gawker premiering Friday on Netflix, opens with A.J. Daulerio, the former editor of the site, reading an email from his bank: “We placed a hold on your account.” Daulerio can’t help but laugh as he reads out the unfathomable sum: “$230 million is the amount of the hold.”

The big legal fight in 2016 between Gawker and Peter Thiel (featuring Hulk Hogan!) was seemingly preordained for movie treatment. It featured an irresistible cast of characters: a vampiric Silicon Valley billionaire, an aging pro wrestler, and a group of dirtbag New York reporters. But Nobody Speak, directed by Brian Knappenberger, isn’t really about Gawker or Thiel or Hulk Hogan’s penis. It’s about inequality.

Our new Gilded Age has seen the return not only of monopolization and astronomic inequality, but also outsized oligarchical influence over the media.

It was under Daulerio’s byline that Gawker published the Hulk Hogan sex tape that ultimately led to Hogan, a.k.a. Terry Bollea, being awarded $140 million in damages by a Florida jury. Gawker Media, founder Nick Denton, and Daulerio all ended up filing for bankruptcy. It wasn’t until after the trial ended that it was reported by Forbes that Thiel was secretly funding Bollea’s case. Thiel claims that he did so because Gawker “has been a singularly terrible bully,” most notably by outing him in a blog post in 2007. Denton, for his part, is convinced that Thiel was mad that Gawker Media, through its Valleywag blog, was a thorn in the side of Thiel and his powerful friends in Silicon Valley.

But as Nobody Speak points out, these are mere details. The story of Gawker’s murder boils down to the fact that a very, very rich man was able to destroy a publication he disliked with impunity. As Floyd Abrams, a lawyer specializing in the First Amendment, says in the documentary, what Thiel has done is to “potentially imperil entities who upset large, rich, powerful people and institutions. And it’s not limited to individuals. This can be corporations.” By opening with the comically enormous hold on Daulerio’s bank account, the film viscerally illustrates the division between billionaires like Thiel and the rest of us.

Knappenberger underscores this idea by dedicating the final third of his documentary not to Gawker, but to another media company: the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In January 2016, the paper was mysteriously bought by an anonymous entity—even Review-Journal staffers were kept in the dark. Audio shows Michael Schroeder, the man who helped facilitate the deal, being pressed by the staff to reveal the new owner, to which he fumblingly responds, “We really don’t think … they want you to focus on your job.”

So they did. …

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Link to Nobody Speaks: Trails of the Free Press movie trailer: 1+-Minute Video


The Village Voice’s Liberal Savior Owner Is Trying to Crush Its Union

By Hamilton Nolan
Splinter (6/14/17)

When Peter Barbey, a member of one of America’s 50 richest families, bought the Village Voice in 2015, hopes were high for a financial and cultural revival of the legendary paper. Today, the company’s union negotiations suggest those hopes may have been misplaced.

The Voice, founded in 1955, was America’s first real alt-weekly. As alt-weeklies across the country have collapsed over the past decade, done in by the changing economics of media advertising, the Voice has experienced its fair share of business turbulence. It was bought by the New Times chain in 2005, sold to another media ownership group in 2012, and throughout that period suffered financial losses, staff departures, and constant turnover at the top. In late 2015, the man that many hoped would be a true savior emerged: Peter Barbey, whose family owns a multibillion-dollar portfolio of clothing brands including Nautica, Timberland, and North Face, and who himself already owned a newspaper in Pennsylvania, the Reading Eagle. Barbey swooped in seemingly from nowhere to buy the Voice, declaring that “I unequivocally believe there’s great value in the Village Voice brand.”

Self-proclaimed liberal

With his splashy purchase of a once-prestigious New York weekly that he vowed to revive, Barbey bore some resemblance to another man in the news: Jared Kushner, whose purchase of the New York Observer in 2006 helped springboard him into the upper echelon of New York City society, and then into the White House. Kushner also decimated the paper’s staff and reputation in the process. Voice employees hoped that Barbey’s tenure would turn out better. And Barbey, a self-proclaimed liberal who came from out of town, seemed intent on establishing himself as a real New York City media figure, not a dabbler. He took a New Yorker writer along with him as he house-hunted, eventually settling on a $26 million Greenwich Village apartment. (Peter Barbey did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)

The atmosphere at the Voice, though, quickly soured.  …

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NPR Workers Just Showed Us Why Journalists Need To Organize

By Michale Arria
In These Times (7/24/17)

NPR workers just proved that collective action works, and—in today’s media landscape—staff unions are more important than ever.

The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and National Public Radio (NPR) reached a tentative, three-year agreement shortly after midnight on July 15, preventing more than 400 NPR employees from going on strike.

On July 14, almost 300 of these employees voted to request strike authorization from the SAG-AFTRA national board. Despite soaring public radio ratings in the wake of Trump’s election, the union said that NPR was instituting a two-tier salary system, in which one group of workers would receive lower pay than the other. Historically, the establishment of two-tier union contracts have dealt major blows to worker solidarity. “My greatest concern is for the new hires who come in behind me,” tweeted NPR reporter Sarah McCammon on July 14.

An email sent from the union negotiating committee to members of the bargaining unit on July 11 explained, “Absent an 11th-hour change, the company is planning to offer us an odious contract. The company is setting up a bitter choice for us.”

NPR workers were able to use their leverage effectively and show why journalism unions are still so important.

According to employees, management even floated the idea of gutting overtime pay and taking away healthcare coverage for temporary workers. “They are trying to lower salary minimums, and they are really trying to weaken the power of the union,” NPR producer Becky Sullivan said during a July  interview. “They want to write in more flexibility for outside people to do union work and take away the union’s ability to file a grievance.”

During negotiations, some of NPR’s most popular staff members, including “All Things Considered” host Robert Siegel, sent CEO Jarl Mohn a letter detailing the importance of the union contract. “NPR’s stature and audience have grown, while most of us were serving under the SAG-AFTRA contract,” it reads. “Members of your management team seem to believe that NPR has become the revered media company it is—a company that they boast about serving—despite that contract. They misunderstand NPR’s history and culture: NPR has become great partly because of our labor-management contract. The contract has ensured proper working conditions, collaboration and collegiality, and an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

Although details of the new deal have not been disclosed, a SAG-AFTRA representative said that it includes salary increases and “effectively repelled efforts to erode union protections and institute a two-tiered salary system.”

“Despite the often-referenced decline of organized labor, news unions have been a major story over the last two years as media outlets like SalonViceMTV NewsThe Guardian USJacobinThrillistSlate, and others have obtained union representation. “News unions are back,” wrote Gary Weiss at the Columbia Journalism Review last month, “They never really went away, of course, but for the first time in memory they are proactive rather than on the defensive.” …

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