Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to protect local, independent journalism in part by making large media mergers more difficult.
Sanders’ plan, released Monday, comes after weeks of criticizing the mainstream media for negative coverage of his campaign. In particular, his proposals target large media industry players and would enforce strict antitrust laws to prevent Facebook and Google, online advertisement giants, from using their “monopolistic control” to financially undermine smaller news organizations.
In a commentary in the Columbia Journalism Review, Sanders differentiated between news stories he said were “gossip, punditry and clickbait” and what he called “real journalism.”
“Real journalism requires significant resources. One reason we do not have enough real journalism in America right now is because many outlets are being gutted by the same forces of greed that are pillaging our economy,” Sanders wrote, referring to the two internet powerhouses.
Sanders panned the planned merger between Gannett and GateHouse Media, the two largest newspaper chains in the country, as an example of the type of big business transactions that lead to the gutting of local newsrooms
“In my administration, we are going to institute an immediate moratorium on approving mergers of major media corporations until we can better understand the true effect these transactions have on our democracy,” wrote Sanders.
The Gannett/GateHouse Media merger would put 263 daily publications around the U.S., including the Burlington Free Press, Vermont’s largest daily newspaper, under one corporate roof.
“Gannett’s proposed merger with Gatehouse Media, for instance, will consolidate hundreds of publications under one mega-corporation’s control and slash $300 million worth of ‘synergies’—which is often corporate-speak for layoffs,” Sanders wrote.
Poynter reports that layoffs have already begun in at least four GateHouse newsrooms, but the total number of journalism jobs that could be lost remains unknown.
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Sanders also said he would encourage reporters to unionize and require that before newspaper mergers take place that employees be given the opportunity to purchase the media outlet through stock-ownership plans.
Sanders and his campaign have recently been in a back and forth with members of the press over coverage of his current bid for president, with the Vermont senator repeatedly claiming the coverage by the Washington Post is biased.
Earlier this month, Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders, criticized television networks and the Post for declaring that the campaign was already over. Sanders went on to tell a crowd in New Hampshire that Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post and Amazon, was influencing the stories being written about him. Sanders later softened his criticisms.
The Sanders campaign had also scheduled a “good will” softball game with members of the press in Iowa, but at the last minute media members pulled out over concerns about taking part in the event.
Last week, campaign officials again criticized the Washington Post, saying a story about the Vermont senator including a role for private insurers in his Medicare for All plan was inaccurate. One policy adviser for Sanders even tweeted that the story was “bogus.”
While Sanders’ media reforms could be viewed as an olive branch to members of the press, with the Vermont independent expressing the importance of journalism to democracy, he did not miss the chance to again target Bezos and the Washington Post.
“News outlets owned by Disney and Jeff Bezos may happily tout Disney films and Bezos’s plans for space exploration, but we cannot count on them to consistently and aggressively cover workers’ fight for better wages at Disney- or Bezos-controlled companies,” Sanders wrote in Columbia Journalism Review.
Sanders has also enjoyed a fractious relationship with the local press in his home state, declining to talk with several major Vermont news outlets, including VTDigger.
Last year, Seven Days published a story reporting that Sanders had not granted an interview with the Burlington based alt-weekly for 1,000 days.
After Sanders’ proposal to reform the media industry and strengthen local newsrooms was announced, Isaac Fornarola, a digital editor at the Burlington Free Press, tweeted that Sanders should “respond to my requests for interviews.”
In May, Weaver accused VTDigger of helping to uphold systemic racism by reporting on a past criminal conviction of a senior Sanders adviser, who is Mexican-American.
“This is just another way systemic racism works. It’s disappointing that VTDigger is helping to uphold it,” Weaver said at the time.
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