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A ghost in the chair: trustee ownership and the sustenance of democratically significant journalism

The Guardian ... one of three trust-owned newspaper case studies in the doctoral thesis.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ellis, Gavin Peter (2012). A ghost in the chair: trustee ownership and the sustenance of democratically significant journalism. Unpublished doctoral thesis. Auckland: University of Auckland. E-thesis in UOA Library repository:


"A Ghost in the Chair" examines the role which trustee governance of news media organisations can play in promoting and protecting democratically significant journalism. This stewardship is commonly found in public service broadcasting, and is rare in the private sector where most trusts serve the interests of newspaper-controlling families. A small number of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic are owned by trust-like organisations that practice a public service approach to print journalism. Resources devoted to mainstream journalism are being reduced by recession and by long-term effects that have eroded the conventional business model employed by profitdriven, market-listed media groups. This thesis assesses trusts as an alternative more sustainable ownership model. It examines historical and present-day use of trust structures within and outside the news media, to determine the characteristics most likely to produce a form of governance which sustains journalism that contributes to the political, social, and cultural fabric of society. This thesis examines in detail the three most significant newspapers in trust-like ownership - The Guardian in London, The Irish Times in Dublin, and the St Petersburg Times in Florida, and finds that each applies strong public service principles to its journalism and business strategies that are designed to sustain its editorial endeavours. The study also finds that new enterprises established to fill gaps in the journalistic landscape, have trustee-like stewardship but lack parts of the formal framework that characterises the three newspapers. It concludes that a trust does offer structural protection and journalistic focus, but trustee governance requires careful crafting, is difficult to attain, and will owe its success or failure to not only the skill and insight of trust founders in establishing appropriate institutional structures and guarantees, but also to the personalities of key actors. One of those actors may be a long-dead founder whose philosophy is held in trust by those legally or morally bound to follow it. That is the ghost in the chair.