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Faded newsprint.

Daily Newspapers Die At An Alarming Rate, Leaving Monopolies For Stronger Competitors

Displaced staffers of the defunct Arkansas Gazette weren't lonely for long. They were quickly joined in the unemployment line by colleagues in Dallas and Tulsa, Okla. Soon, San Antonio could join the list.

One-newspaper towns are becoming the rule.

The Tulsa Tribune was the most recent casualty. With a diminishing daily circulation of 66,647, it was the "last large-city evening paper in the American Midwest between the Canadian border and Houston," according to the Tulsa World, its larger, morning counterpart.

That distinction was lost when the Tribune ceased publication Sept. 30 after the two papers scrapped their joint operating agreement. The JOA was signed in 1941. It was scheduled to expire in 1996.

"It became incumbent upon us to face the future realistically," said G. Douglas Fox, chairman of the Tulsa Tribune Co., when the agreement to close the paper was announced.

"For us to continue in the partnership arrangement would have been akin to a couple agreeing to live together for 3 1/2 years after deciding to get a divorce."

The 1941 Tulsa JOA set a precedent for similar agreements across the country. In a JOA, the papers share mechanical, circulation and business departments but retain editorial autonomy.

However, most JOAs either already have unraveled or are on their way to the ash heap. Often, the weaker partner ceases publication after the breakup.

According to the trade magazine Editor & Publisher, 1,388 daily newspapers were circulating in the United States in 1980. A decade later, the number had fallen to 1,084.

That was before the great newspaper purge of 1991.

1991: A Bad Year in Print

That painful economic year saw the demise of the Dallas Times Herald; the State-Times of Baton Rouge, La; the Hudson Dispatch of Union City, N.J.; the Evening Post of Charleston, S.C.; the Ledger-Star of Norfolk, Va.; the Knoxville (Tenn.) Journal; the Newport News Times-Herald; the Portland (Maine) Evening Express; and, lastly, The National, a daily sports newspaper launched only a year earlier.

Probably the most significant of the recent newspaper closings was that of the Dallas Times Herald in December 1991. At the time of its closing, the Times Herald had a daily circulation of 200,730 and a Sunday circulation of 289,284.

Its passing made Dallas the largest city in the country with only one daily newspaper and left the surviving Dallas Morning News with an estimated 820,600 Sunday subscribers and a very rosy outlook.

The Times Herald was purchased by Times Mirror Co. of Los Angeles in 1970, and made a valiant run at snatching the market lead from The Morning News.

The weak Texas economy of the 1980s undercut the strength of the former afternoon paper, however, and Times Mirror gave up the ghost in 1986, selling to William Dean Singleton in a deal worth about $83 million.

The debt from the Times Herald acquisition became burdensome to Singleton. He sold the paper in 1988 to an investor group led by former partner John Buzzetta for a reported $140 million.

The Morning News increased its lead in circulation and advertising share, and Buzzetta offered a joint operating agreement in December 1990, which was rebuffed by The Morning News. In May 1991, the Times Herald tried to sell itself to the other paper, but The Morning News would not accept the terms.

But in August 1991, the Times Herald altered the proposal and the two sides reached an agreement in December, with A.H. Belo Corp. paying $55 million for the assets of the Times Herald.

Officials of A.H. Belo, which owns The Morning News, say circulation has risen 30 percent since the days of the newspaper war. Advertising demand also rose sharply, leading The Morning News to immediately raise advertising rates 15 percent. It raised national advertising rates another 10 percent on Aug. 1.

Stock analysts say the paper's outlook is especially bright because of the better-than-average economy in the Dallas area.

Newspaper revenues rose 28 percent in the first half of 1992. And net income for Belo climbed to $18.9 million, or 95 cents a share, from $4.6 million, or 24 cents a share.

More Moves In '92

This year, more changes have occurred in the newspaper industry.

The afternoon San Diego Tribune has merged with the morning San Diego Union to form the double-edition San Diego Union-Tribune; and the afternoon Richmond (Va.) News Leader has been swallowed by the morning Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In June, the once-dominant Anchorage (Alaska) Times, established in 1915, was sold to its rival, the Anchorage Daily News.

San Antonio appears poised to become the next one-newspaper town. It was announced Oct. 6 that The Hearst Corp., parent of the San Antonio Light, will buy the San Antonio Express-News, then sell or close the Light.

Many, including San Antonio Mayor Nelson Wolff, have said chances are slim the Light will be sold.

The Light has lost $60 million since 1987. About 700 employees will be out of work if the paper closes.

The $185 million purchase price included $47 million for new offset presses.

The Express-News has a circulation of 188,797 daily and 284,728 Sunday. The paper has been owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. since 1978. The Light, purchased by the Hearst Corp. in 1924, has daily circulation of 148,591 and Sunday circulation of 221,186.

Other newspapers almost certainly will be closed or absorbed in the decade to come. One newspaper stock analyst, not wanting to be named, says the Houston Post could be on its last leg in head-to-head morning competition with the Houston Chronicle.

"There is a lot of speculation about adjustments in the Houston competition," he says. "The speculation is that the Houston Post will be sold and eventually closed."

JOA cancellations in recent years have led to the demise of newspapers in Knoxville, Tenn., Shreveport, La., Miami, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio. Seventeen cities currently have papers operating under JOAs.

By the year 2000, JOAs will expire in San Francisco, Evansville, Ind., and Pittsburgh, and more editorial voices could be drowned out by the gale-force winds of change.
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Title Annotation:newspapers that stopped publication
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 19, 1992
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