Travels in Medialand

An Atlantic atlas of America's communications companies

When Lord Thomson, the Canadian-born doyen of British press magnates, acquired the rights to television in Scotland several years ago, he proclaimed that he now possessed "a license to print money." The same can be said of the communications industry in America today. With a very few exceptions, newspapers in this country have never been so prosperous. "It's like stealing," one contented newspaper publisher remarked to us recently. "And the more monopolistic newspapers get, the healthier they have become economically." There ought to be some happy consequences for the public as a result of this trend; there is at least the possibility. New York media broker and consultant Vincent J. Manno argues, "Group ownerships invariably have the financial stability to maintain editorial independence of the printed word, and thereby enjoy the potential to serve the general community."

Broadcasting is different. Though the public "owns" the airwaves, a small number of persons who hold the federal government's franchises to broadcast reap heavy profits from the money advertisers pour into TV and radio broadcasting (some $3.2 billion last year). All but the UHF channels and, of course, the educational TV stations, are automatic moneymakers, and small radio stations that rent the air with inanities send their owners well-laden to the banks.

It is no wonder that such operations, with their almost certain profits plus their prestige and their immense power to inform or misinform or omit to inform, are among the most desirable, most sought after properties in the world of business. In setting out to assemble a modest Atlantic Atlas of some of the more important of the individuals and some lesser-known communications combines, we found Who owns what, where? to be only a part of the question. More difficult, it became apparent, was the question, Who owns what, when?

The whirlwind velocity with which the larger combines recombine and split, enter and break off engagements, couple, reproduce offspring, contrive advantageous liaisons between progeny and distant cousins, and otherwise besport themselves in what sometimes seems like a corporate bacchanalia, has made it difficult for us to keep pace with all of it long enough to get it down on paper. A recent issue of the breathlessly phrased Gallagher Report suggests the timber of media-baron mating calls:

"TIME-LIFE BROADCAST MARCHES ON. President Wes Pullen plans to increase subsidiary's $22 million revenues via expansion of tv production facilities. Sets up production centers in Grand Rapids, Denver, San Diego, Indianapolis. Wants to sell second Time-Life Nature series to networks, educational films, tv commercials, special events (a la Indianapolis 500 race coverage for Goodyear Tire & Rubber). Company to capitalize on 11-million-foot backlog of March of Time film. Re-edit for production of historical documentaries. Wes has 14 CATV outlets threatened by multi-media ban. Manhattan Cable Television makes slow progress-has mere 10% of estimated 300,000 potential homes, Pullen lost out to Post-Newsweek Stations chairman Larry Israel in race to acquire Miami ABC-TV affiliate WLBW."

It is all pretty hectic-and heady stuff. When we began assembling the Atlas, we were able to draw obvious sources for details about the "public" companies. Officers of few of the privately owned baronies r like John Cowles, Jr., of Minneapolis, were helpful in providing data. But for persons engaged in the craft of informing, most media barons are surprisingly uncommunicative about the size, extent, and income their suzerainties.

The Atlantic tested various methods of ascertaining such facts—our researchers have consulted the source books (Editor and Publisher, Standard & Poor's Indexes, Television  Fact book) , authorities in the field, and finally, the companies themselves. No two sets of finding matched. Telephone calls to staff personnel produced quite different details and statistics from personal letters to heads of corporations. The media baronies are so big, so fluid, so upwardly, inwardly, outwardly mobile that they themselves don't seem to know how big they are on a given day. It must be stated, accordingly, that the information presented here is current and complete as of the time we went to press only insofar as the media barons' own Domesday Books are current and complete.

key

Time Inc. (black)
key

Almost everyone has heard of Time, the weekly newsmagazine, and of Life, Fortune, perhaps, Sports Illustrated, published by the same company. But not every one knows Time Inc. is also a major broadcaster (with a large quota of TV and radio stations in lucrative markets), a purveyor of teaching machines, a book publisher, owner of thirteen CATV systems (including one that serves the lower half of Manhattan), a big shareholder in MGM, a papermaker, owner of some 600,000 acres of timberland, and a part owner of media in South America, Germany, Hong Kong, and Australia. Life, a $160-million-a-year enterprise, has been regrouping lately to extend its lease on life as a mass magazine in the age of TV - not an easy thing to do. For the first quarter of 1969, Time Inc. reported a loss of $300,000 (less than the combined salaries of its chairman of the board and president), and the stock tumbled from an Olympian 100 into the 60s. But the outfit is rich and diversified. Last year's revenues: $567,811,000. Recently it bought thirty-two neighborhood newspapers in the Chicago area, is looking for more newspapers to buy, is thinking about starting new magazines on food and TV. Where it all will end knows Mammon.

Cowles Communications, Inc. (red)

Look magazine is the big moneymaker for Cowles Communications—it accounted for 61 percent of the company's total revenues last year. But Cowles Communications is also into other magazines (Family Circle, Venture), business and trade publications, newspapers*, broadcasting (in Des Moines, Memphis, and Orlando, Florida), books, foreign publications, and a three-dimensional printing process, and some of these efforts at diversification—notably the young Suffolk (Long Island) Sun and the XOGRAPH three-dimensional printing process—operate in the red. Cowles's revenue last year was $164,959,000 but it came out with a net loss of $972,000 (down from 1967's net loss of $3,478,000).

If anything happened to Look, Cowles Communications would be in trouble. According to Cowles Communications' annual report, "because of increased costs, [Look's] profit in 1968 was less than in 1967. The Magazine had only a slight gain in advertising revenue…”  But the report pooh-poohs some "typical" stockholder questions ("how does the demise of the Saturday Evening Post affect Look and the magazine industry?") with uplifting statistics and commentary: "In the last five years, advertising in the leading consumer magazines measured by the Publishers Information Bureau has climbed over 28% to a dollar total of $1,196,055,761. In the same period, circulation for these magazines increased by approximately 19% . . . . The Post was in ill health, not the magazine business…” Cowles Communications is headed by Gardner ("Mike") Cowles; it is the only one of the three Cowles baronies to be held publicly. (For the others, see p. 92.)

*Not shown here is an Ocala, Florida, newspaper and printing operation, the remnants of the Perry newspaper group. In April, Cowles agreed "in principle" to pay Perry an estimated $4.8 million worth of Cowles common stock for the properties.

Washington Post-Newsweek (red outline)

The Post Company, owner of the capital's leading paper, the Washington Post  (daily circulation: 479,644), and Newsweek (worldwide circulation: 2,571,480), is a streamlined instrument of national influence. Its chiefs, the late Eugene Meyer, the late Philip Graham, and the former's daughter and latter's widow, Katherine Meyer Graham, have built their empire with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. They have not, however, neglected to acquire milch cows which keep the farm profitable; the Post Company owns the CBS outlets in Washington, D.C.—WTOP-TV and WTOP-AM and FM, and the Jacksonville, Florida, CBS television outlet as well.

There are other pursuits: Newsweek, Inc. publishes Art News. The Post Company and the (Los Angeles) Times-Mirror Company operate a successful news syndicate; the Post Company is one of the three owners of the International Herald Tribune in Paris (these two interests are not shown on this map). The company's current figure for "consolidated revenue" is "in excess of $100 million." The Post aspires to reach, and if possible, pass, the New York Times in prestige. Newsweek has been bothering stomach linings at Time Inc., and Mrs. Graham, very much the boss-lady, gets invited to all the best parties—Nixon's as well as Capote's.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In