Monopoly Profits and Broken Promises

This Timothy Noah piece, from January 1984, examines the Washington Post at its period of greatest strength.

Every now and then those of us who enthusiastically endorse the virtues of capitalism get a glimpse of its unattractive side. One particularly vivid moment of self-examination for the news business came in 1981, when the Washington Star ceased publication, abandoning the field to The Washington Post, for the past two decades the capital’s number-one newspaper. As any redblooded capitalist will tell you, our system thrives on competition; this competition provides the customer with a range of choices and also tends to make each business try to do a better job than the other guy. But what happens when one business competes so successfully that it eliminates the competition?

This was the awkward question faced by The Washington Post when its long-suffering rival finally succumbed in the summer of 1981. The question was especially awkward for the Post because it was a newspaper, and therefore obliged to comment on its new monopoly status. When the Post published its editorial on the Star‘s passing, it in effect answered the monopoly question with an assurance that now there were “new obligations on this newspaper’,’ and that the Post would have to “search for ever more ways to make our pages and our services responsive to the needs of the community!’

Read the rest here (pdf).

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