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Mainstream Media Need to Open Their Books to Maintain Credibility

February 20, 2019 - 9:15am

The public has had enough.

Mainstream media entities that purport to report unvarnished news must be held accountable for their transgressions -- slanting coverage, contorting facts, omitting information.

HAL 9000, the futuristic computer in the Space Odyssey series, would go haywire attempting to tally the mushrooming mountain of journalistic crimes perpetrated on an unsuspecting public over the past decade.

The sobriquet “fake news” sadly can be applied to the content of most members of the mainstream media who for years have relished throwing that term around indiscriminately at smaller, independent news outlets.

It’s time for these non-publicly traded entities -- daily and weekly newspapers -- to open their books revealing the names of investors and sources of income.  Then readers can more easily assess the credibility of those news operations.

Newspaper readership has eroded with former subscribers opting for independent digital news sites, local blogs, and online specialty magazines.  Generations younger than the Baby Boomers are transitioning seamlessly; their elders are also eschewing print in favor of other forms of communication but at a slower pace.

With print journalism’s economic woes, many newspapers are going out of business.  Others are selling themselves to the wealthy -- Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post; Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Review-Journal; the Dolan family, Newsday; John Henry, the Boston Globe;  Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, San Diego Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times ... the list goes on.

These captains of industry purchased the newspapers for influence; certainly not for profit.  When ownership interests are made completely public, readers become more aware of subtle agendas and can calculate the veracity of news content accordingly.

But ownership of many other newspapers is more entangled, more guarded.  A prime example: the Tampa Bay Times and its owner, the Poynter Institute of Media Studies.

Poynter tries to project an image of ethical journalism to its industry peers.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Formerly the St. Petersburg Times, the Tampa Bay Times claimed the more-inclusive designation after the Tampa Tribune folded.  Revolution Capital,  a Los Angeles-based private equity investment group bought the Tribune for $9.5 million in 2012.

Revolution raped the newspaper by selling off its real estate in 2015 for $17.75 million, then murdered it completely.

The Tines purchased the carcass -- basically furniture, another web presence, a subscription list, and some advertising contracts -- for an astonishing price reportedly north of  $12 million.  The  Times assumed responsibility for severance as hundreds of personnel were let go.  Those that were incorporated under the Times banner received health insurance and other fringe benefits from a company that borrowed heavily to consummate the stupidly ill-thought buyout.

Such egregious blunders are responsible for the Times’ financial plight and the newspaper has made a ton of them in the past decade.  With approximately $120 million in debt and operating nowhere near profitability, the Times is in its death throes as a viable, traditional newspaper entity,

At one time, The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal agency, placed liens totaling $70 million against The Times Publishing Company. The Times sold its downtown St. Petersburg headquarters in 2016.

On June 28, 2017, Crystal Financial signed a Satisfaction of Mortgage, releasing Poynter Institute from a 2013 loan totaling $28 million.  The mortgage security released was the Poynter Institute property and the parcels of land comprising the Times printing plant.

To stay afloat, the Times solicited shares in its company to “investors,” mostly local businessmen with self-serving agendas.  The public announcement was made by Publisher Paul Tash but he only revealed the names of five investors who wanted to be identified.

Fortunately, sleuthing bloggers were able to identify two more.  According to the Times, only one lurks anonymously.  We are quite sure there are more and that investments ramped up as the Poynter/Times debt exploded.

With a cabal of local profiteers now calling the shots, the Times ceased becoming an impartial purveyor of news.  Its main aim since has been to glorify the investors and their enterprises while covering up a glut of indiscretions and, in some cases, downright criminality.

In 2018, Poynter/Times, through its subsidiary Florida Trend, sifted through the state’s 20 million residents and named one of its “investors,” Kiran Patel, as “Floridian of the Year.”   One must assume the other investors are waiting their turn to receive the honor .

In September 2017, Patel and his wife announced they would spend $200-million to build a Clearwater campus for Nova Southeastern University.  No one needs an accountant’s degree to know that the actual gift was overstated fourfold.

So for $51.5 million, Patel bought himself a faux honor and humongous tax writeoff.

Four months earlier, several Tampa health care companies controlled by Patel including managed care providers Freedom Health and Optimum Healthcare, agreed to pay $31.7 million to settle allegations that they violated federal law to boost reimbursements from Medicare.

A fine choice by Poynter/Times for “Floridian of the Year.”

It gets far more atrocious.

The avalanche of slanted news and gross omissions from the Times coverage has burdened Hillsborough County with the highest sales tax in Florida,  expedited the death spiral of the once proud Museum of Science and Industry, and given cover to shady land deals in Ybor City, one of the country’s most historic neighborhoods.

Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and former hedge fund manager, invested a confirmed $1.5 million in the Times, probably more.  He has been at the center of all three controversies.

The Times promotes every Vinik enterprise.  He has abused the public treasury, lied about the consequences of a transit tax referendum, and has been running Tampa like a crime lord since his arrival from Boston in 2010.

The increased sales tax, which hurts low and fixed income families, was designed to save Water Street Tampa, Vinik’s flailing development in downtown Tampa.  It is comically referred to as “Underwater Street Tampa.”

None of Vinik”s checkered past has ever been reported by the Times.  Many Tampa Bay residents remain unaware Vinik managed two underperforming hedge funds, endured ethical controversies involving his management of certain funds, and that he was a target of several shareholder lawsuits and an SEC investigation.

He initially ran Fidelity Magellan, the world’s largest stock mutual fund at the time, only to step down in 1996 after a costly bet on Treasuries.  Just prior to his departure,  the New York Times reported: “In the last six months, shifts in the fund’s portfolio have been relentlessly scrutinized and roundly criticized as its performance lagged further and further behind the overall stock market.”

More than a dozen lawsuits accused the then 37-year-old Vinik of stock manipulation, contending that he extolled a stock in public to keep its price up as he quietly sold large holdings.

A year later, Fidelity Investments paid about $10 million to settle a lawsuit against the company and Vinik.  Plaintiffs claimed he misled individuals into buying Micron Technology stock at the same time the Magellan Fund he managed was selling the stock.

Vinik is a leading member of the ”no-name group,” a once clandestine bunch of downtown muckety-mucks who conspire off the grid.  It wasn’t the Times that exposed the names of the members; they were splashed in the late Tampa Tribune.

The stranglehold over the Times by Vinik and other elitists has driven its news coverage for their good, not the greater one.  This is not what Nelson Poynter, founder of his namesake institute, envisioned.

The Times fails in its mission as a trusted news source.  It can only regain that trust by opening its books to the public without reservation.

 

Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog.

Comments

I find this hit piece funny, ironic coming from SSN that has never said who funds you?...…………...So who does fund SSN?...………….And let's be transparent at Fox News too!...…………….And most importantly, Trump needs to be transparent and not lie nearly every time his mouth opens...……..What's up with that? ……………. Why can't that man tell the truth? ……………...And even worse, why do people believe the lies?...……...22 more months of Trump even the trump chumps will be tired of his lies.

The far left parrots out in force! You are spot on Jim! Which is why they screech so loud!

Speak for yourself, Bleyer! The mainstream media certainly don't owe the public any more accountability, transparency, or explanations than does the rightwing media ... like the Sunshine State News and other similar propaganda providers.

Even I understand what Jim wrote. You obviously cannot connect the dots between the hypocrisy of the Poynter Institute and the Times being on the take by those that bailed them out.

Good luck with that, Jim ! Unfortunately, it's a SICKNESS that has permeated the Democrat Political Party and its liberal media "handmaidens": For further 'evidence' of that SICKNESS, just witness the rabid 'comments' here to your article, by the end of this day...

Oh, you mean rabid, demonizing, factless like yours . . . . . . . PATHETIC

Everyone likes to take shots at the best. The Times for all its financial troubles still has the most Pulitzers of similar market papers. It is certainly mismanaged, but absorbed your former employer and it sounds like you are still bitter about that. if something is being inaccurately reported, point it out and name your source, otherwise, everyone needs to open their books. At least Politifact backs up their claims with sources, unlike any other source, certainly not FoxNews or the Inquirer. Perhaps the news sources will open their books when the president does. I'd be willing to bet the farm they have less to hide than he does... I hear the Washington Post is cash strong and hiring, but you have to have a Pulitzer to be considered... Good luck.

Harping on the 'MSM' just a partisan political thing. 'Republican media', 'conservative media', 'rightwing media' just bashing those other media organizations who they presume are 'the enemy'. On the other hand, the mainstream media simply reflects the interests and preferences of the society and culture at large ... which has been left-of-center since the days of Patrick Henry and Nathan Hale! (Only 29% of registered voters in the U.S. are registered as 'Republican' ... so 'the Republican perspective' is a distinctly minority viewpoint overall.)

You are obviously a current or former employee of the St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay/whatever name is currently convenient Times. You should remain in your coven as you are apparently able to divine motives without a shred of evidence. Lastly, you are gutless...sign your full real name as I have.

where's your evidence I am wrong or anything you say is right Danny boy? I have not had, nor have I needed to have an employer for many years now. I guess you could say I am self-employed and make money over having money to make it... Best of luck to you lad...

When the dust settles this may, in retrospect, be universally recognized as the Golden Age of Mainstream Media. I assure you I have vastly more confidence in the mainstream media than all the bloggers, conspiracy promoters and radical entities that think they are journalists. We are forced to endure the extremist left and right wing so called journalism in order to help ensure an unfettered free mainstream press which for the most part operates within the confines of accepted journalism ethics and protocols. Your position is, I believe, seriously wrongly directed. You're not the only person with a journalism background concerned about journalism ethics but I do believe your views are pointed generally in the wrong direction

The above post wins for all-time idiotic. “Golden Age..” ROFLMAO!!!

Easy to insult if that is your desire but I am confident, objective historians will share my view.

Good comment!

Comments are now closed.

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