Powerball Plans 

Musings of a wannabe newspaper warlord

Asked how they'd spend the $293.7 million they won in November's record Powerball lottery, a Missouri couple told reporters they planned to buy a Camaro. They plan to travel to China. They might adopt a second daughter. They'll up their grandkids' college tuition. OK, so that leaves $293.6 million.

They obviously have absolutely no idea how much money $293.7 million is.

Mark and Cindy Hill seem like an average couple in their early 50s. Working class. Salt of the Earth. But man, what a waste of money. $200,000 would have been more than enough to change their lives. Not really knowing what to do with such a massive sum, the Hills will likely waste most of it on America's self-perpetuating charity industry, which says that spending up to 35 percent of donor money on six-figure executive salaries and other luxuries is perfectly acceptable.

It is, of course, the Hills' quarter-billion-plus to spend/squander, not mine. Let's get something straight: I'm not jealous. I can't envy the Hills because there is no way I could have won because I don't buy tickets. However, I do know how I'd spend their money.

Like the Hills, I'm a Midwest boy without fancy tastes. I'd pay off my mortgage and credit cards. I'd buy my mom a house over the ocean. I'd buy one of those new Challengers. Which would leave me $293.4 million.

Lottery winners always talk about helping their families. What about their friends? I have friends whose lives would be instantly transformed by $5 million checks. Brilliant cartoonists who could quit grueling day jobs and focus on developing their careers. Ailing writers who could finally get medical care for chronic conditions. Aspiring entrepreneurs who could capitalize their great ideas. People who are stressed out because work is scarce or nonexistent and are having trouble making ends meet. I have a couple dozen of friends like that. Helping them out would cost me about $100 million. Money well spent.

I want to help transform the media. That's my big dream. Unfortunately, I will never realize it because I don't have access to the kind of capital necessary.

The disintegration of print newspapers and the failure/refusal of digital media to deeply invest in serious journalism and smart commentary and satire is making Americans stupider, allowing evil corporations and corrupt, lazy politicians to thrive.

Warren Buffett is a smart man, picking up newspapers at rock-bottom prices. Personally, I'd buy The Los Angeles Times now that its parent, the Tribune Company, has emerged from bankruptcy. Experts guesstimate you could pick the Times for $185 million or less.

Aside from the fun of running a major metropolitan daily newspaper--12 pages of full-color comics! Hire a kick-ass investigative reporter to infiltrate government! Create an editorial page that runs no one to the right of Mao Tse-Tung!--I think the Times would be a fab investment.

People say newspapers are dying. Specific companies are hurting, many are dying, but the dead tree form is here to stay. Print magazines and newspapers will get their groove back when they understand what they are for. The Internet is for short updates. Print is for long-form analysis. Print tells you why you should care about what happened.

We need serious analysis, but no one wants to read 15,000 words on a smartphone. The publications that are doing OK are embracing in-depth feature stories. Publishers are going to figure out the destiny of print is longer, smarter content.

The future of newspapers in the United States will look a lot like Europe, where nations have a few big national newspapers, each of which serves a particular political orientation or interest, like sports or finance, and individual communities are served by hyperlocal outlets and, possibly, regional ones that would go to, for example, people in the Southwest.

We already have a few big national newspapers. USA Today was first. The New York Times is our big national paper of news and high culture. The Wall Street Journal is the national paper of finance. The Washington Post should be the big national political paper, but its management doesn't get it. There should be a national newspaper for entertainment and the logical candidate is the Los Angeles Times. It has the contacts, the location and the brand recognition to pull it off. What they need is for someone to point them in the right direction.

Not only would you make a killing, you'd establish a template to revive American journalism. Don't forget, more than 90 percent of all news stories originate in newspapers.

I may never win a Pulitzer, but no one can take having been a cartoonist-columnist-newspaper-baron-warlord away from you.

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