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Take Note: News Corp Quietly Owns NYC Neighborhood Newspapers

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I am embarrassed as the founder of a digital media source of news and information that I am only now learning of something that happened in 2007.

It seems that while those of us who follow the business of news media were fixated on News Corp's take over Dow Jones-The Wall Street Journal in 2007, the multinational media conglomerate was quietly acquiring a number of neighborhood newspapers in New York City.

Right under our noses News Corp, owned by Rupert Murdoch (New York Post, Fox News and on and on), acquired these neighborhood publications:

The Bronx Times and The Bronx Times Reporter.
Times Ledger newspaper group in Queens.
Courier Life group in Brooklyn (28 weekly papers, 27 of them geared to covering specific neighborhoods).

News Corp's plan, according to a 2007 report in the International Herald Tribune, is to expand circulation of some of those in the Howard Beach and Richmond Hill areas of Queens, and to introduce two new weeklies covering Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn. That is a lot of local coverage and access to shape public opinion in these neighborhoods.

All of that happened between 2006 and 2007.

Still not enough, In March 2009 News Corp acquired the reputable Brooklyn Paper, a 30-year-old independently owned neighborhood publication.

It was the Brooklyn Paper that was the chief media challenger of the Atlantic Yards Project, a major real estate development plan orchestrated by ONE real estate developer to redesign Brooklyn with the centerpiece of this grand design being a new NETS Arena designed by iconic architect Frank Gehry.

(BBN Editor's Note: You don't have to live in New York City to get the scope of this real estate development project. Every major city has its own version of this project including the motley crew that makes it all happen.)

For at least three solid years it was the Brooklyn Paper - whatever its motivation - that challenged what seemed to be an unchecked process that gave the developer free reign to move ahead with over-the-top goals of redesigning Brooklyn, all with the stamp of approval of city and state authorities. I know this because at the height of public hearings surrounding this project I was communications director (a stint that lasted everso briefly) for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was the chief cheerleader for all things Atlantic Yards Project and a fierce advocate for that ONE developer. The Brooklyn Paper was relentless - as they should have been - in their reporting on this story.

With News Corp's purchase of neighborhood publications like the Brooklyn Paper all that annoying journalism that challenges pesky things like protecting citizens from eminent domain or challenging elected officials is all but lost. Really, why would a commercial, multinational media conglomerate committed to bottom line results and shareholders concern itself with civic responsibility and engagement?

Why does this matter? This matters because not-so-slowly we are seeing the end of independent and community sources of news and information that covers a perspective that is critical in a democracy. It is a media trend that is not going to happen, but is happening and will continue to happen.

Now more than ever the pendulum has to begin to favor the side of independent, community media sources - where, after all, will all those laid off journalists end up and where will people get a perspective that they won't find in the publications and broadcast outlets that are embedded in commercial, mainstream, corporate interests?

The world of ethnic and immigrant media need not worry about News Corp knocking on its door to buy them out. None of those publications in New York City swooped up by News Corp are owned by Black or Brown interests, never mind that New York City boroughs are filled with, well, ethnic and immigrant communities.

What we should worry about -- ALL of us -- is that the stories, concerns and issues that are dire to our country's progress will be buried further than they already are. Corporate, bottom-line driven interest don't much care about the people and communities most impacted by education reform, universal healthcare, social justice, gender equality, 2010 census, home foreclosures, economic disparities, digital inclusion, the trajectory of foster care children, incessant violence that plagues America's inner-cities especially, AND certainly not the often painful stories of immigrants of color from Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean or Africa.

There is nothing we can do about the News Corps of the universe or this disturbing media trend where multinationals are taking over neighborhood newspapers. That is what commercial media does, and That commercial media ship has sailed and gained speed. But there is a clear response to buck this trend, and mitigate this extreme imbalance.

If there is an ounce of interest in preserving a core value of a democracy - information and civic engagement - then non-traditional resources have got to step up and begin to aggressively support these alternative news publications. That means organizations, institutions and individuals with the resources to do so have to respond.

The need is urgent and the time is now. We, organizations and people like me who are committed to independent media as a vehicle to do our part in our democracy, need the support of all hands on deck. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, we exist and are ready, willing and most able to do the important, urgent and needed work we do.

Sharon is the Founder and Managing Editor of BlackandBrownNews.com