Good day Austin.
We learned yesterday that Cox Enterprises has put the Austin American-Statesman up for sale.
Not the incalculably valuable waterfront property by the bat bridge on which the newspaper building sits. That is already spoken for by the Cox family. But the paper itself — which is worth less.
Not worthless. Hardly. The Austin American-Statesman is a truly terrific paper that does Austin proud, day after day.
It’s just, in the open market, worth less, a lot less, than the land it occupies.
That seems wrong. What has the land done to be so valuable? It just sits there.
But the paper is a scene of perpetual, tireless creative effort.
I don’t know what the future holds, but, if past is prologue, for me, I’m cautiously pessimistic.
My last job was with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, another great and beloved paper, that in 2012 cut back to publishing three days a week, laid off a couple hundred employees, including me. I was told I was a superb reporter, and they couldn’t use me anymore.
That brought me to Austin five years ago, Dec. 1, and it’s been great. But I imagine the next owners may look at a 63-year-old man who stays up all night writing 5,000-word blog posts as an oddity they can do without.
I came home last night and told my wife the news, and that I wasn’t sure what to do.
She advised me to “think outside the box.”
Sound, if trite, advice.
But, as the World Series resumed, I thought outside the box.
Altuve, I thought. José Altuve.
What a great guy.
Baseball players make a lot of money, more than they possibly can know what to do with, so why shouldn’t José Altuve buy the Statesman?
I know he’s with the Houston Astros and Houston’s going through a lot of stuff that might prove a more compelling object of Altuve’s charity, but what really scotched the idea was when I looked up Altuve’s salary.
What I found was unbelievable. A scandal.
Jose Altuve, three-time winner of the American League batting title, almost certainly this year’s Most Valuable Player, earns only $4.5 million a year. He is only the 12th best-paid player on the Astros’ payroll. Justin Verlander, at $28 million, earns more than six times as much as José Altuve.
This is a travesty. José Altuve doesn’t even make enough money in a year to buy the Austin American-Statesman.
Carlos Beltran, who makes a more respectable $16 million a year, is a good guy. If he bought the Statesman I could even forget all about how Beltran in 2006, as a New York Met, watched an Adam Wainwright curveball for a called third strike with the bases loaded, ending Game 7 with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
But Beltran has devoted extraordinary time and money to helping his native Puerto Rico, so it makes no sense to distract him.
And he also has nothing to do with Austin that I know of.
Now Cubs ace Jake Arrieta. He still lives in Austin, right, and he’s coming into a really big payday.
From Bleacher Report:
This winter, Arrieta will test free agency. Someone will reward him handsomely, and unless the Cubs are willing to pay the market rate for an ace—$100-plus million—he’ll be hurling baseballs in a new city.
What we need is someone in Austin or with a deep affection or connection with Austin to buy the paper. There are some very rich business folks, but there is a danger that someone with decided interests in what government does, might seek to influence the paper’s coverage, and leave the public wondering.
So, what we need is for that someone to have a lot of money that doesn’t depend on things the Statesman writes about.
Like Matthew McConaughey.
McConaughey is embedded in Austin culture and identity.
Right now, a traffic message on a road leading to downtown reads: “Do you use your blinker? It would be a lot cooler if you did,”
According to the website, Celebrity Net Worth, Matthew is worth a cool $95 million. Now, we’re getting somewhere.
He seems like he’d be someone who thinks Austin ought to have a daily newspaper.
And, with him as our owner, we could put up billboards all over town and on the sides of buses, and what not, that showed Matthew enjoying his morning cup of coffee and his Statesman, with the words: “Do you read the Statesman? It would be a lot cooler if you did.”
Or, how about Sandra Bullock?
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Bullock is worth $200 million. (Jose Altuve definitely needs to get in touch with her agent.)
Now $200 million is the kind of money that would allow Bullock to buy the paper and keep it going until she is old and I am older.
And, Bullock has done one film in which she played a newspaper columnist. From TV Tropes:
Not to be confused with the Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, 28 Days finds Sandra Bullock playing a drunk and disorderly newspaper columnist sent away to a rehab facility to sober up. Although she’s initially resistant to the program, Bullock eventually sees the light and admits to herself she has a problem that won’t go away without help. Viggo Mortensen co-stars as a major league baseball player and fellow rehab center patient who connects with Bullock on an emotional level.
Willie Nelson would probably be the coolest owner. I know he was dead broke and owed the IRS a lot of money he forgot to pay them some years ago.
But he’s back. According to People With Money from January, the “84-year-old Willie Nelson has taken the No. 1 spot on People With Money’s top 10 highest-paid guitarists for 2017 with an estimated $75 million in combined earnings.”
Nelson had a song that came out earlier this year — Delete and Fast Forward Again — that seemed studded with potential newspaper maxims.
Delete and fast-forward, my son
The elections are over and nobody won
You think it’s all endin’ but it’s just settin’ in
So delete and fast-forward, my friend
Delete and fast-forward again
It’s just one big circle and it’s beginning to end
What’s next was now and what’s now is now again
So delete and fast-forward again
Delete and fast-forward the news
The truth is the truth, but believe what you choose
When we blow the whole world back to where it began
Just delete and fast-forward again
The sale of the Statesman comes at a time when the press is under what seems unprecedented assault, starting at the top.
Meanwhile, right here in Austin, Alex Jones has a vast audience, the ear of the president and is making money hand over fist from the sale of Caveman, the Ultimate In True Paleo Nutrition with Bone Broth, Turmeric Root, Chaga Mushroom, Bee Pollen, and other Ancient Supernutrients, and the like.
I’m thinking that in this new media environment, Matthew, Sandra and Willie may be too laid back.
Maybe the best buyer would be someone like the Texas Rattlesnake — Stone Cold Steven Austin — who is reportedly worth $45 million.
And think of the branding opportunities.
That’s right, I’m ready to write for the Stone Cold Steve Austin American-Statesman.