Magazine article American Journalism Review

Dialogue with a Retired Publisher

Magazine article American Journalism Review

Dialogue with a Retired Publisher

Article excerpt

Ben Franklin was one of the sharpest businessmen among the Founding Fathers, a successful Philadelphia publisher who knew how to make money as well as turn a phrase. AJR has been able to establish contact with him from time to time on the outernet, a device combining our Web site with a ouija board and a key on a kite.

We put through the latest call to tell him some newspaper managements are saying the newspaper's only obligation is to the shareholders.

BF: What's a shareholder?

AJR: One of the owners, somebody who has risked money on the success of the newspaper company. They used to be called stockholders, but there were people who thought "stockholders" sounded like greedy rich people. So now everybody says "shareholders."

BF: Got it. I wish I had thought of calling myself a shareholder.

AJR: Well, what do you think of this new idea?

BF: Not sure what you mean, A.J. They're saying that the paper's only obligation is to the owners? Is that it?

AJR: Right.

BF: We thought about that, you know, and it seemed a pretty bad idea. The king's people wanted to keep it that way, of course. We didn't like it, so we gave the press special protection.

AJR: But you didn't seem to have anything against making money.

BF: A penny saved...

AJR: Cut that out.

BF: ...penny wise, pound foolish. Is that any help?

AJR: Not much. What's wrong with saying your only obligations are to the shareholders?

BF: It's all right, really, if that's the way the owners want it. …

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