Why Billionaires Buy Media

Photo by BP Miller on Unsplash

Why did Elon Musk buy Twitter? Why did Jeff Bezos buy The Washington Post? Why do billionaires like Mike Bloomberg, Peter Thiel, John Henry, and so many others invest in media?

I’ve seen plenty of discussion on this question, but I wanted to state an answer in simple terms: billionaires buy media to gain political power.

Media no longer makes sense as a financial investment. News outlets previously made sizable profits from selling advertisements, but digital advertising companies like Facebook and Google destroyed this business model — newspaper advertising revenue has plummeted in the 2000s.

Twitter also makes money from digital advertising, so will Elon Musk reap massive profits? The short answer is no, as Twitter’s revenue comes nowhere close to warranting the offer price. Musk himself acknowledged that the purchase does not make financial sense, saying “I don’t care about the economics at all.”

So what does he care about?

Consider this quote from Ben Bagdikian’s book, The Media Monopoly:

“The power to control information is a major lever in the control of society. Giving citizens a choice in ideas and information is as important as giving them a choice in politics. If a nation has narrowly controlled information it will soon have narrowly controlled politics.”

In an updated version of the book, Bagdikian states the idea succinctly: “media power is political power.”

It’s too early to know what exactly Twitter will become under Musk’s ownership, but the details actually don’t matter too much. The concentration of media control was bad enough already, and Musk’s purchase of Twitter exacerbates the elites’ control of information in society.

Monopolies suck, especially when it comes to information. Democracy requires well-informed citizens who can access diverse, trustworthy information — in short, democracy requires a free press, not a handful of billionaire-owned media companies.

Unfortunately, as Robert McChesney put it, “we are now rapidly approaching a point where there is nowhere near sufficient journalism for the constitutional system to succeed.”

Welcome to the billionaire media monopoly! May the odds be ever in our favor.

P.S. Want to help build a different world? Support local news and public media!

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Jack Bandy

Jack Bandy

PhD student studying AI, ethics, and media. Trying to share things I learn in plain english. 🐦 @jackbandy