After 46 years, the 70-year-old owner of Lueken’s Village Foods in Bemidji, Minn., wants to travel the world with his wife, Janice, and spend more time with his four sons, none of whom lives nearby. So on Jan. 1, Lueken will begin the gradual process of turning over operation of his two supermarkets — the other is in Wahpeton, N.D. — to his 400 employees through an employee stock ownership program, or ESOP.
“My employees are largely responsible for any success I’ve had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that,” Lueken told the StarTribune of Minneapolis earlier this month. “You can’t always take. You also have to give back.”
Lueken has had offers from larger, independent chains and likely would’ve made more money selling the business to one of them, he said. However, the grocer thinks that giving employees the opportunity to run the business for themselves will be better not just for the workers but for the business, and for Bemidji, a city of 13,000 located about 200 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
More on Lueken’s ESOP can be found here.
Now, for Doug Manchester, a business owner who doesn’t practice Economic Democracy — and is destroying a once-proud paper:
It’s been just about a year since developer and financier Douglas Manchester bought the San Diego Union-Tribune, the largest newspaper in the city. For some staffers and media observers, it’s been the worst year in the paper’s eight-decade history.
Manchester, a major Republican Party contributor, and U-T CEO John Lynch have overhauled the once-respected daily into what many consider a front for Manchester’s “cheerleading” for business interests and right-wing politics.
“People are so embarrassed by the [newspaper] that they are dropping their subscriptions,” says Don Bauder, who spent 30 years at the Union-Tribune from 1973 to 2003, which included stints as financial editor and columnist. “Around town it is an embarrassment.”
A group headed by Manchester purchased the Union-Tribune in November 2011, just a few years after the paper won two Pulitzer prizes. He took over operations in January 2012 and immediately put his mark on the paper, changing the name to U-T San Diego to promote all of its news outlets beyond print, hiring Lynch, a longtime friend and local radio station owner, as his CEO, and placing a front-page editorial on the print edition that all but vowed to work for big business.
Such changes have come at a cost. David Carr of The New York Times, among the most respected media columnists in the country, wrote in June that the Union-Tribune “often seems like a brochure for [Manchester’s] various interests.” He added that any pretense of protecting news coverage from the new ownership’s editorial views “was obliterated from the start.”
The paper’s decline has continued apace since Carr published his piece. In the run up to November’s elections, the paper took its support for a Republican mayoral candidate to unusual lengths with front page editorials, while also disparaging President Obama via opinion pieces that featured vitriol usually confined to Internet fever swamps.
From its outlandish front page editorializing for a new football stadium and waterfront development (which would indirectly benefit Manchester’s bank account) to its top executive’s threatening email to a public official, the newspaper is considered by many staff and local media experts to have fallen into an ethical morass.
And that worry has grown worse in the past few months as Manchester bought the North County Times, a smaller daily in nearby Escondido, CA, which was considered a necessary rival to the Union-Tribune.
“The only way the paper will survive is if people trust it to give the news of their community,” said Dean Nelson, director of journalism at nearby Point Loma Nazarene University, who also writes for The New York Times and The Boston Globe. “If people get the sense it is just whoring for the leadership’s business enterprises, they are done.