Alternative weeklies don’t have anywhere near the same readership as the major dailies. And when an alt-reporter breaks a big story, it’s often only after the mainstream press picks up on it that his reporting has the greatest impact.
Consider muckraker Peter Byrne’s report “Billion-dollar baby,” which ran in SN&R and several other alt-weeklies last month.
Byrne’s piece raised important questions about University of California Regent Richard Blum, whose investments in two major for-profit colleges are doing great, thanks to the deterioration of the public university system that he helps govern.
For example, at ITT Educational Services, in which Blum’s investment firm Blum Capital Partners is he largest shareholder, Byrne reports, “profits rocketed in tandem with new enrollments, even as UC and other public universities were turning away students for lack of programs.” Blum is the husband of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein.
It looks like a pretty clear conflict of interest, and it’s clearly not being monitored by the UC treasurer.
Of course, UC officials pretty much blew Byrne off. But the story did get the attention of the LA Times, whose columnist Michael Hiltzik cited Byrne’s reporting and posed the question:
If the chairman of the World Wildlife Fund held significant investments in, say, BP, wouldn’t people wonder exactly what he thought about how to balance environmental protection and oil industry regulation?
They would, if the press did a good job of making that conflict widely known. Good for Peter Byrne for letting us know about Richard Blum’s conflict.