Special Report

The Left’s Nonprofit Journalism Empire: Targets of Liberal Activists

The Left’s Nonprofit Journalism Empire: Social Madness, Local Partisans, and Big Bets
The Nonprofit News Sector | Targets of Liberal Activists
Big Philanthropy’s Play | Selecting for Activists

Targets of Liberal Activists

In recent years—especially since the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016—liberal activists have taken a strong interest in taking over and building journalistic enterprises to promote liberal ideology, defend liberal political figures, and attack conservative political figures. The most prominent example of this activist impulse is likely Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Washington Post in 2013.

Since Bezos’s takeover, the Post has rebranded itself under the slogan “Democracy dies in darkness” and has aligned increasingly with the institutional governing class in its home city. The paper played a starring role in the ignominious journalistic fiasco that was the reporting into supposed connections between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian military intelligence. While Bezos has sought to make the Post profitable, the New York Times reported that the paper was on track to lose $100 million in 2023 thanks to declines in readership since Donald Trump left office in 2021.[1]

Another tech billionaire, Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of legendary Apple executive Steve), acquired The Atlantic, the influential newsmagazine, through her Emerson Collective in 2017.[2] The magazine notably published uncorroborated allegations accusing then-President Donald Trump of making remarks disparaging U.S. military casualties during the 2020 presidential campaign, in addition to a steady diet of liberal ideological content aimed at the NPR-tote-bag set.

But national-level mass media properties like the Post or The Atlantic are perhaps the least important targets of liberal activist interest. Big Philanthropy, the multi-billion-dollar enterprise of left-wing culture and infrastructure building—Capital Research Center estimates left-leaning 501(c)(3) spending aimed at influencing public policy now runs over $15 billion per year[3]has turned its eye toward two crucial media projects: A rescue-cum-takeover of local and state-capital press and a project to squeeze dissenting voices out of social media with government regulation and corporate-level pressure made more urgent by the takeover of Twitter by the eccentric Elon Musk.

Changes in the Local-Media Landscape

Local media has not been exempted from the turmoil that has struck national press outlets. Those with interests in institutional journalism, from liberal activists to journalism schools, have taken notice of three trends: A decline in local-media employment, a decline in communities “served” by a local newspaper, and the rise of corporate ownership of the local news outlets that remain through conglomerates such as Gannett.

Before proceeding, one must ask, “Why the focus on local newspapers?” “The Expanding News Desert,” a report credited to Penelope Muse Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina Hussman journalism school, provides a plausible answer:

By devoting a team of investigative reporters to the task of sifting through government records, analyzing data and then translating what they had found into lucid prose and compelling articles that consumed tons of newsprint, these large papers were able to set the agenda for debate of important policy issues that ultimately affected all residents in the state and region. [emphasis added][4]

During the 20th-century heyday of the metropolitan-liberal commercial press, well-resourced regional and local newspapers—through their coverage decisions, investigative journalism projects, and editorial voice—could set the tone for local and state-level policy discussions. They had the power to decide what issues were worth considering and what perspectives would be given legitimacy. The fracturing of the media world in the 21st century has given that power to everyone and no one—and it is a power the institutional Left is prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to retake.

Further irritating left-wing activists and left-wing journalists is the consolidation in corporate print media. Private-equity firms and media conglomerates like Gannett have absorbed numerous local newspapers. For the Left, this creates two problems. First, these conglomerates, while often liberal in outlook, may be less liberal than “independent” owners with an ideological rather than commercial motivation.

Second, conglomeration has led to the elimination of many journalists’ jobs, as commercial owners cut costs to keep declining properties afloat. This has made opposing private-equity ownership a major campaign of the radical-left-wing union that represents many newspaper journalists, the NewsGuild division of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).[5]

CWA sits on the left wing of the firmly left-of-center labor union movement. Its leadership endorsed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders for president in 2016, and its subordinate unions are responsible for (among other things) serial extensions of the COVID-19 mask mandates on airplanes and demanding airlines engage in activism for abortion access.[6]

NewsGuild locals themselves have, among other acts of “social justice unionism,” condemned a writer for reporting accurately on George Soros’s spending on soft-on-crime prosecutors’ election campaigns, condemned the publication of a Republican U.S. senator’s op-ed on rioting in 2020, and endorsed “Solidarity with the Palestinians from the river to the sea.”[7] The union’s New York local provoked a conflict with its own members at the New York Times when it appeared to intervene on the side of outside left-wing pressure groups like GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign in a fundamentally editorial dispute over the paper’s coverage of transgender-related controversies.[8] The Times and Wall Street Journal units would later pressure the NewsGuild local covering New York City not to issue a statement calling for an armistice ending the 2023 Israel-Hamas War and for ending U.S. military aid to Israel in November 2023.[9]

In line with its socialist ideologies and cynical desire to see more journalists given what amount to left-wing patronage jobs, the NewsGuild has campaigned to restrict private-equity and media conglomerate ownership of newspapers. The union has pushed Biden administration federal agencies and ESG-influenced institutional investors to deny corporate conglomerate efforts to take over local press outlets.[10]

In the next installment, Big Philanthropy invests heavily local and national journalism.


[1] Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson, “A Decade Ago, Jeff Bezos Bought a Newspaper. Now He’s Paying Attention to It Again,” New York Times, July 22, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/22/business/media/jeff-bezos-washington-post.html.

[2] InfluenceWatch, “Emerson Collective,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/emerson-collective/; and Ember, Sydney, “Laurene Powell Jobs’s Organization to Take Majority Stake in The Atlantic,” New York Times, July 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/28/business/media/atlantic-media-emerson-collective-majority-stake.html.

[3] See also David Callahan, The Givers. Knopf, April 11, 2017, p. 297.

[4] Penelope Muse Abernathy, “The Expanding News Desert,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/reports/expanding-news-desert/.

[5] InfluenceWatch, “Communications Workers of America (CWA),” https://www.influencewatch.org/labor-union/communications-workers-of-america/.

[6] Michael Watson, “Still Muzzled? Blame Big Labor,” Capital Research Center, May 25, 2021, https://capitalresearch.org/article/still-muzzled-blame-big-labor/; and Michael Watson, “Social Justice Unionism Means Pro-Abortion Big Labor,” Capital Research Center, May 10, 2022, https://capitalresearch.org/article/social-justice-unionism-means-pro-abortion-big-labor/.

[7] Michael Watson, “I Do Not Want the NewsGuild Bargaining for Me, Ever,” Capital Research Center, May 24, 2021, https://capitalresearch.org/article/i-do-not-want-the-newsguild-bargaining-for-me-ever/.

[8] Michael Watson,. “Pushback to Social Justice Unionism at the New York Times,” Capital Research Center, February 27, 2023, https://capitalresearch.org/article/pushback-to-social-justice-unionism-at-the-new-york-times/.

[9] Max Tani, “WSJ, Times Journalists Pull Union Away from Gaza Statement,” Semafor, November 26, 2023, https://www.semafor.com/article/11/26/2023/wsj-times-journalists-pull-union-away-from-gaza-statement.

[10] NewsGuild, “Unions, public interest advocates thwart hedge fund’s attempted takeover of local news and set groundbreaking FCC precedent,” May 22, 2023, https://newsguild.org/unions-public-interest-advocates-thwart-hedge-funds-attempted-takeover-of-local-news-and-set-groundbreaking-fcc-precedent/; Julie Reynolds, “NewsGuild Urges Public Pension Funds to Divest from Cerberus, Citing the Firm’s Role in the Destruction of Local News,” NewsGuild, September 23, 2021, https://newsguild.org/newsguild-urges-public-pension-funds-to-divest-from-cerberus-citing-the-firms-role-in-the-destruction-of-local-news/.

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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