In what I can only describe as a community-minded act of charity, multibillionaire Warren Buffett recently announced that he would pay $150 million to buy his hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald.
Buffett, who had a paper route as a boy, once was an enthusiastic investor in newspapers. He’s owned the Buffalo (N.Y.) News since 1977 and owns a significant stake in the Washington Post Co.
But in recent years, the Oracle of Omaha has been issuing doom-laden pronouncements on the future of the newspaper business. He’s said that newspapers “have the possibility of unending losses.” Of the Buffalo paper, he said, “On an economic basis, you should sell this business.”
So I have to conclude that Buffett’s purchase of the Omaha paper is the generous act of an aging rich man who wants to leave his hometown with a stable, well-financed, locally run news organization.
Good for him, and great for Omaha. If only every city had a Warren Buffett to insure the future of its leading journalism organization.
That got me wondering: Who could be the Twin Cities’ Warren Buffett?
We have two daily newspapers that have struggled along with the rest of the industry over the last five years. But we don’t have anyone as wealthy as Buffett, ranked No. 2 on the Forbes 400 list of America’s wealthiest citizens with a fortune of $39 billion.
Still, we do have six members of the 400, billionaires all. What are the odds that any of them would decide to take a late-life flyer in the news business?
Glen Taylor: Nope. He fulfilled his obligation to buy a struggling community institution when he took over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Whitney MacMillan: The Cargill heir stays completely out of the spotlight — Forbes didn’t even have a photo of him to run with his listing. Hard to imagine him taking on such a public role as owner of a newspaper.
Barbara Carlson Gage and Marilyn Carlson Nelson: Same story. The sisters, daughters of the late Curtis Carlson, have stayed out of the limelight in recent years — although Marilyn Nelson was unquestionably the state’s most powerful businesswoman for decades.
Richard Schulze: The Best Buy founder has shown admirable community-mindedness with his generous donations to educational institutions. But he’s never given any public indication of a desire to become a media mogul.
Stanley Hubbard: Now, this guy is already a media mogul. A legend in both terrestrial and satellite broadcasting, he’s smart and tough. Just the man to take on the challenge of breathing life into a fading news medium. The only trouble is, he’s probably too smart to bet on such an uncertain enterprise.
Bottom line: We probably don’t have anyone likely to step up and buy either of our daily newspapers. And you know what? We may not even need them. The Star Tribune has Mike Klingensmith, Editor & Publisher magazine’s newly named “Publisher of the Year,” and the Pioneer Press is under the corporate management of one of the news industry’s current visionaries, John Paton.
If they can’t figure out a path to the future, none of our local moneybags is likely to, either. And we’ll be a cold Omaha — without Omaha’s news coverage.