Former journalist and current public affairs strategist Clint Brewer joined The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Friday morning on the newsmakers line.
During the second hour, Brewer weighed in on Facebook’s recent grants to local and national organizations which ironically were all left-leaning. He questioned why any self-respecting news outlet would want to take a grant when they should be figuring out ways to increase their business on their own adding that this would prevent them from reporting on Facebook objectively.
Leahy: We are joined by our good friend. A former journalist and current public strategist and all-around good guy. All-star panelist Clint Brewer. Clint, you and I talked and I asked you to consider what Facebook is doing in a private conversation a couple of weeks ago.
And I said, “Hey look at what the Facebook propaganda project is doing. I mean the Facebook journalism project is doing.” (Laughs) And I said, “My goodness, why would anybody who values their journalistic objectivism, why would anybody apply for a Facebook journalism grant?”
Well because they have the same world view which is basically left-wing liberal. They just announced $16 million in funding to local journalists. We did not apply because there is no way you could maintain your journalistic integrity and take money from Facebook. Let me tell you who got the money from Facebook here.
Hint, none of them are Conservatives. (Laughs) The Daily Memphian got $75,000. The Justice Through Journalism Project in Memphis got $72,000. Nashville Public Radio got $100,000. Out and About in Nashville got $69,000. And the New Tri-State Defender in Memphis got $50,000.
I don’t know anything about those guys but they sound like they’re liberal. I’m just curious why these guys apply and take the money. And doesn’t it make them unable to report at all with any objectiveness about any objectivity about Facebook?
Brewer: Yeah, I got a lot of mixed feelings about this project. I guess what I would say is that some of these organizations or the scope and the size of their news operations are such that they are sort of intensely local. So I don’t know that they’re going to be diving into national policy to regulating consumer internet platforms.
The Tri-State Defender in Memphis is one of the oldest black newspapers in the country. And it was incredibly active and important during the civil rights era back when American newspapers were frankly kind of dangerous.
Brewer: I think there is some merit in some of these grants to truly hyper-local publications who are never going to cover Facebook. They’re just not. You guys are different. You delve into national policy. You’re in multiple states. But then I look at it like the Los Angeles Times got money.
Brewer: It’s not even about journalistic objectivity to me. It’s more like how come the industry doesn’t just get back to the point where they can learn how to make money again. That’s the safest thing you could do. If you want to safeguard journalism in America then the people who run these businesses, they’re not charities they are still businesses, need to figure out how to make money again.
Some of these are large news organizations that are almost kind of embarrassing that they are taking a grant from Facebook. They ought to be able to stand up their businesses on their own. It’s almost like waving the white flag claiming we don’t know how to be capitalists anymore. It’s just disappointing to see who’s asked and received them. This is like saying, we give up.
Brewer: We can’t make ends meet anymore.
Leahy: Part of the reason I think is if you look at digital advertising now about two-thirds of the revenue goes more to Google and Facebook.
Brewer: Yes, they are huge. They dominate every part of the state. It just seems odd to me that some national news organizations are taking grants from anybody. It seems counter-intuitive to what they are supposed to do.
Leahy: We own The Minnesota Sun in Minnesota. And the big competition there is the Minnesota Star Tribune. They took $150,000 from Facebook. (Laughs)
Brewer: The Star Tribune has done some great investigative work over the years. It’s a paper that setting politics aside and has done good work off and on over the decades.
Leahy: More off than on recently. (Chuckles)
Brewer: I just know people who’ve worked there and know it to be quality journalists. But what bothers me about it is not favoring left-wing or favoring right-wing but some of these news organizations felt they needed to do it all. The ownness is kind of on the news organizations as to why would you apply for that when you might be writing about them? Why would you apply for that when you ought to be out there learning to make the money yourself.
Leahy: The Boston Globe took another $150,000 from Facebook. (Laughs)
Brewer: Those are national brand news organizations. It perplexes me. It really does.
Leahy: And I look at this and I say, “Look I can’t prove it in a court of law but I absolutely believe that Facebook is throttling our site because they don’t like our politics.” You’ll see sometimes they kind of do this periodically with test runs and sometimes they throttle you and sometimes they let you go. But basically they don’t like our message. I can guarantee you that Google has removed The Tennessee Star from its business news search because they don’t like what we’re doing.
This is just pure censorship. I think ultimately where we need to go is anti-trust litigation against them because to my mind they are in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act because they have, in effect, not a complete monopoly, but pretty close to an oligopoly in part because of the technology and in part that backbone by government federal funding. What do you think of the possibility of such an anti-trust lawsuit being brought against them?
Brewer: I think the possibility is low. I think we’ve discussed this before on the show. Traditionally anti-trust activities have been brought on by the federal government, right?
Brewer: Usually you get one or more cabinet-level departments involved. Usually, you have some activist Senators or House Chairman who decide there need to be hearings on it. It hasn’t happened in a while particularly in the communications space. Breaking up MaBell in the late 80s is the last time this happened?
I just don’t know if there is a modern-day template for it anymore. It would really really, something egregious would have to happen at a national level before elected officials of any administration, the last one, this one, and the next one would get the courage to do it. Because you know, there are very prevalent platforms and deciding to take them on would be a huge fight. A very big fight.
Leahy: I agree with you. This means entrepreneurial news outlets like The Tennesee Star and our company Star News Digital Media we just need to be more focused and harder working and better able to find a model that works. It’s working well in Tennessee and we’re starting to expand it in other states as well.
Clint Brewer, thanks so much for joining us. And we will see you at Peg Leg Porker in some time in the next week or so. And then hopefully next week in the studio when we figure out which schedule fits best for your timeline.
Brewer: Sounds good to me man. I’m looking forward to it.
Listen to the full second hour here:
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