By Jack Bernard
Special to The Seattle Times
The Seattle Times recently reported that Starbucks planned to stop selling newspapers at its stores beginning in September [“Starbucks stores to stop selling newspapers in the fall, pointing to ‘changing customer behavior,’ ” July 12, Business]. I want to amplify the voices of those concerned with that decision.
Starbucks has branded itself as a “third place,” a term for a place other than home or work where community life takes place, people connect and interact. It would appear that Starbucks borrowed the branding idea from another Seattle favorite, Third Place Books, our local independent bookstore chain, but that’s beside the point.
I admire the Starbucks brand and the worldwide empire former CEO Howard Schultz built. It’s brought jobs and recognition to Seattle and in general has been a good corporate citizen. Like any large corporation, it’s made mistakes, but it has usually been quick to respond and rectify problems, whether it’s exploitation on coffee plantations or “partner” wage or scheduling problems.
It’s always tempting to conflate a corporate founder’s views with company policy, but it’s difficult to separate them in the case of Starbucks. Schultz has always been the “voice” of Starbucks, and though he stepped down from his CEO and chairman roles in 2018, he is still the chairman emeritus and its single largest shareholder.
Given that he recently tested the presidential campaign waters and has never been reluctant to share his opinion or weigh in on issues outside of Starbucks, I find it astonishing that the company is planning to stop selling newspapers in America’s “third place.” If supporting an informed electorate and promoting good citizenship is important to him, as he has said so many times, then why is Starbucks pulling the plug on the endangered newspaper industry and the investigative journalism that is its foundation?
Today, the stores sell The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times and USA Today in its Seattle locations. In September, you won’t be able to buy them there. All of these papers offer vetted, fact-checked journalism. We need them now more than ever. Millennials may choose to get their news online, but there is no substitute for print journalism, for scanning the pages of a local or national publication for articles that would rarely pop up while browsing on the internet.
This is not just a business decision. The Times’ article mentioned that newspapers have not been a profitable item at Starbucks, but this should be more than just business. America needs an informed and educated electorate more than ever. In its small way, Starbucks has created space where people gather, read and discuss the issues of the day.
This is a plea to Schultz and the leadership at Starbucks to reconsider its decision. Please help us do our part to support newspapers and investigative journalism. It’s part of our obligation as citizens and your decision to provide a third place for us to exercise that obligation.
Editor’s note: Starbucks and the Schultz Family Foundation contribute to local journalism through their investment in The Seattle Times Project Homeless initiative, which explores the region’s complex, troubling problem of homelessness.
Jack Bernard is a Seattle-based freelance writer and former Marine Corps pilot and lawyer.