'King of the City' Journalism Is All the Rage

Includes: AABA, CVC, NWS, NYT
by: Ken Doctor

Consider the new Big City American journalism and the emerging cast of characters owning it. It's a page right out of the history books when a few well-heeled titans controlled the press, and its new incarnation could have all kinds of implications for the Yahoo (YHOO) Newspaper Consortium, for AP and for journalism start-ups near and far.

If Rupert Murdoch indeed knows more about who the next owner of Newsday will be than the rest of us, and I'd have a sense he does, that would make him Prince, if not King, of New York. Pending what may be obligatory regulatory review, given the anti-trust and FCC thinking of the moment, he'd own Newsday, the Post, WWOR-TV, WNYW-TV and the solidly NYC-centric Wall Street Journal.

Chicago is Sam Zell-land, as Sam bought the title King of Chicago along with the Tribune, WGN TV and Radio, Chicago Magazine, Redeye and CLTV.

The Bay Area is Dean Singleton's, by far the largest newspaper owner out here, owning about everything daily other than the Chronicle, which is owned by Hearst, his key business partner in many other markets.

Dean is also chair of the AP board, and Sam and Rupert have just joined.

I bet we'll see more. As the new Tribune peels off Newsday, and stares down the next debt payments, eyes are bound to turn to L.A. And there, too, might not a new Big Man in Town buyers emerge? Recall that David Geffen, Eli Broad and Ron Burkle were all in the hunt earlier for the Times.

In Boston, it's just a matter of time before the Times (NYSE:NYT) says good-bye to the Globe (paging Jack Welch); it's got to deal with the emerging threat to its core NY Times flagship by... Murdoch, whose News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) is talking of synergizing his London Times and the Journal. (By the way, in a recent interview, former Times editor Howell Raines spoke of how the Jayson Blair scandal shelved plans to re-brand the International Herald Tribune with the Times nameplate. Great idea -- the Times now wins or loses as a global news franchise -- and why haven't the plans proceeded? There's little time to waste especially as the Murdochian armies mass.)

It's funny, isn't it, that pundits hypothesized that the Internet and associated technologies would democratize media and here we are back to the landscape of the early 1900s. Hearsts and Pulitzers and the rest changed journalism, started wars and elected presidents. Now undoubtedly, our media is much more diverse, but arguably getting more concentrated at the top end, where most of the ad revenue is and where the greatest bullhorns are heard.

Yes, daily newspapers' businesses are in a world of hurt, but those able to buy low, leverage the assets synergistically with emerging media or subsidize them to meet other business and political goals are in a great position. The brand value associated with the the L.A. Times, the San Jose Mercury News, the Chicago Tribune and Newsday, just to name a few, is still great, and can be harnessed in any ways new owners see fit.

What kind of impacts might such rapidly changing ownership portend:

  • All roads may lead to Yahoo. With 40% of newspapers (by circulation) in on parts of the consortium deal and increasingly betting on the Yahoo AMP ad platform to provide one of their greatest growth opportunities, Yahoo has major importance. With Steve Ballmer out of the picture for now, new suitors will come knocking. One of those who has wooed Yahoo before and who undoubtedly will again is Rupert Murdoch. Remember his plan to swap MySpace for 25% of Yahoo, and then subsequent talks after Microsoft came bidding? Now News Corp, with its increasing newspaper heft, sees more ways to synergize news assets with Yahoo and more ways to synergize Fox Interactive Media as well. So what if News Corp bought or had significant control of Yahoo? That would put Murdoch in the catbird's seat of US journalism.
  • AP may be a pivotal chip in the new game. AP has moved as smartly as a cooperative can, embracing the ideas of web 2.0 and trying to get its member/owners (all the daily newspaper companies) to come along. It's been a tough slog. Now big questions sit on the AP horizon. Will it be the kind of coop envisioned more than a century ago, or will key players be more interested in the question, "What can AP do for us?", change or constrict its mission. It's a vital question made even more relevant because AP's become more important to national and global reporting as major metros have reduced their coverage in those areas, focusing on local.
  • Personifying the new corporate ownership should give "public interest" journalism a new way to assert itself. I've written about a lot of sprouts of public interest journalism, most non-profit, some for-profit, but all small and funded in small amounts. In a new age of easily identifiable Big Man in Town journalism, would member-supported local/regional and even national news media find new life?

Disclosure: None