Just when I find myself in an especially bad mood — because I forgot to renew the car registration and ended up with the car towed, or my computer somehow auto-filled the form when I was ordering coffee online and my desperately needed shipment went to my two-year-old grandson Miles in New York instead of to me, or I realize that I am simply too sleep-deprived and stiff in the joints and utterly out of practice on the viola to be able to host my favorite annual Thanksgiving chamber music party this year — just when I’m feeling utterly defeated, something happens that makes me think some things are right with the world after all.
Today it was a column in the American Prospect by Robert Kuttner, with the headline “A Silver Lining in the Story of Private Equity Killing the Press.” Kuttner, as many of you surely know, was co-founder of the Prospect in 1990, teaches labor history and political economy at Brandeis, and is one of the smartest and kindest people on Earth. Four years ago, in an act of absurd generosity, he invited me to co-author an article with him about the collapse of the newspaper business. Because I was still working for GateHouse Media, one of the main culprits in the story, I wrote under a pseudonym. The resulting investigative piece, titled “Saving the Free Press From Private Equity,” appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of the Prospect.
That’s what Bob’s column was about today. He’s been wanting to blow my cover, of course, for the last four years. Now was the time, he figured, because the mainstream press is finally starting to pay attention to the story told by the Prospect back then about the real reasons newspapers are losing their place in American life. (See the Atlantic’s version, called “The Men Who Are Killing America’s Newspapers,” in the current issue.)
The “silver lining” Bob is referring to is the emergence of the Independent, which he cites as an example of “what a local paper is supposed to look like.” He gives me too much credit, but he’s right on target in describing what good community journalism does: examines important issues of government, business, and social welfare in detail, covers the arts and culture, and publishes “serious obituaries, which really paint a portrait of a person’s life, at a time when most papers now use paid obituaries as profit centers.”
I’d been under a cloud since reading the latest volley against the innocuous residential tax exemption from the Truro Part-Time Resident Taxpayers Association. They say the exemption is unfair because some people who get it don’t need it. Tax relief should go only to those who deserve it, they argue.
Before I got sidetracked by today’s silver lining, I had intended to write about the counter-argument, brilliantly stated in a recent essay by Bob Kuttner. It’s called “The Stupidity of Means Testing.” Bob wrote, “Our most comprehensive, best-run, and best-supported programs have no means tests. That includes above all Social Security and Medicare. It also includes public education.”
And modest local tax relief, I might add to Kuttner’s list, in places where year-round residents are an endangered lot.