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.
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.
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.
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.
As the Gannett Company puts it in their 1968 annual report, "A major advantage enjoyed by the Company over all but the very largest single newspapers lies in corporate size sufficient to maintain production staffs able to evaluate new production methods…” He who is big need never be small. Gannett now owns thirty dailies and nine broadcasting stations (soon to be eight) in six states, growing out of Frank Gannett's chain of upstate New York newspapers founded in 1906 (shown here, with a few surrounding properties). Recent expansion has been consummated with gusto: Gannett bought the nine Macy chain papers in New York's Westchester and Rockland counties in 1964; Cape Kennedy, Florida, area newspapers and radio stations in 1965 and 1966; a group of Illinois newspapers in 1967; and early this year the San Bernardino, California, Sun papers (the seller was the Los Angeles Times; price: $17,700,000). The Wall Street Journal reports that Gannett has agreed to pay an estimated $15 million in cash and securities for two Pensacola, Florida, papers in the old Perry chain. Total daily circulation for Gannett's papers: 1,315,663. 1968 revenues were $123,738,688; net income was $8,624,451. Competently edited, generally with a Rotary-Kiwanis conservative bent, the Gannett chain is today run by Paul Miller, once Washington Bureau Chief of Associated Press.
To state the links and the distinctions between the several enterprises controlled by members of the Cowles family is not to say what they mean. For the record, Cowles Communications (See page 91) is to be distinguished from the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company, and both are to be distinguished from the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Company. In fact, Gardner Cowles, chairman of the board of Cowles Communications (which owns the CBS radio-TV outlets in Des Moines), is president of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company; his brother, John Cowles, Sr., is chairman of the boards of both the Des Moines Register and Minneapolis Star and Tribune Companies, and the latter's son, John Cowles, Jr., president of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Company, is a member of the board of directors of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company. As John Cowles, Jr., puts it,
Because the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company and the Gardner Cowles Foundation, Inc. (of Des Moines, my Grandparents' charitable foundation) each owns more than one percent of the stock of Cowles Communications, Inc., and of Minneapolis Star and Tribune Company, the FCC apparently considers the New York, Des Moines and Minneapolis companies to comprise a single "group" of interests. This FCC definition is perhaps responsible for the erroneous public impression that the three companies are managed by some single, over-all, holding company or trust. Except for the overlap, however, of my Uncle Mike [Gardner Cowles], my Father and me with respect to Des Moines Register and Tribune Company, the editorial and business managements of the three companies are separate and unrelated.
The Des Moines company publishes the morning Des Moines Register and evening Tribune and a Sunday paper. Though financial statements are not made public, the annual revenues can be estimated at over $25 million.
But up in Minneapolis, things are more complicated. The Minneapolis Star and Tribune Company (annual revenues: over $50 million) owns Harper's magazine in New York (through a wholly owned subsidiary, Harper's Magazine Inc.), newspapers in Montana and South Dakota, a CATV system in Nebraska, a television station in Kansas (which the company is trying to sell to Gaylord of Oklahoma; see page 94), as well as the Minneapolis morning and evening newspapers. What is currently concerning the FCC is the question of "concentration" arising from the fact that the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Company owns 47 percent of the operator of Minneapolis-St. Paul's CBS radio and television outlets; the controlling 53 percent is in turn owned by the publisher of two St. Paul newspapers, namely the Ridder family's Northwest Publications, Inc. through a company called Mid-Continent Radio-Television, Inc. (which in turn is partly owned by another company called MTC Properties, Inc., which in turn is a non-Cowles stockholder [14.7 percent] in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Company. Phew.)
The Ridder family has other broadcast and newspaper interests from the Midwest to the Rockies, publishes sixteen papers in California and the Journal of Commerce in New York. The Ridder people did not respond to our request for a ball-park figure on company's dollar volume; an informed guess at the Ridder interests' worth is $100 to $150 million.
Samuel I. Newhouse is nothing if not acquisitive. His empire of twenty-plus dailies has undergone electrification (television and radio properties, some of them in cities where Newhouse also owns major newspapers [Portland, Oregon; St. Louis, Missouri; Syracuse, New York; and Birmingham, Alabama] and a collection of nine CATV systems) and beautification: Vogue, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and House & Garden lead Newhouse's magazine chain. Syracuse is the traditional seat of the Newhouse barony, but his influence is national, if not too frequently exercised. (As is the case with many of the larger groups, the chain's endorsement of LBJ in the 1964 election was a rare show of unified editorial policy.) Long green, and not newsprint, is understood to be the preoccupation of the Newhouse barony. An estimate of the outfit's worth: $200 to $250 million.
Three Salt Lake City baronies which are engaged in a variety of joint enterprises dominate the state of Utah with their newspaper, broadcast, and cable television interests, and dominate as well the microwave systems which connect cable TV and broadcasting outlets all over the Rocky Mountain states. The group owns important broadcast properties in neighboring states, and Bonneville, the Mormon Church affiliate, also has an estimated $20 million (just under 5 percent) interest in the Los Angeles Times. God is very much alive, and on the air (but not in Salt Lake City, tax-exempt). Here are some guesses about the three outfits' value: Bonneville: $60 to $75 million. Glassman-Hatch: $15 to $18 million. Kearns-Tribune: $12 to $15 million.
No longer the mammoth of the journalistic jungle of earlier days, the Hearst Corporation is still an important owner of newspapers, magazines at home (Harper's Bazaar, Good Housekeeping Cosmopolitan, Town & Country, House Beautiful, Popular Mechanics) and abroad, radio and television properties, and a newspaper feature syndicate. One center of Hearst power is Baltimore, where it owns the evening News-American and the NBC radio and TV affiliates. Total daily circulation for eight newspapers: 1,851,012. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., doesn't like to talk about money, but our research suggests that the corporation is worth $250 million; one estimate of Hearst's gross sales figure for 1968: $500 million.
A mighty fortress is the Chicago Tribune, a bulwark of ancien régime conservatism never yielding. Colonel McCormick, creator of "The World's Greatest Newspaper," is gone, but the men who command his caissons go rolling along. If the Tribune weren't the circulation leader in Chicago and surrounding suburbs (805,924 daily), and if the New York Daily News (which the Tribune Company now controls) weren't the nation's largest circulation paper (2,102,655 daily), television and radio properties in these top markets would help; the Tribune Company owns them anyway. An afternoon Chicago paper, Chicago Today (née Chicago's American), broadcast interests in Minnesota, Colorado, and Connecticut, CATV systems in Michigan and California, and newspapers in Florida constitute the Tribune Company's outer barricades. The Tribune Company is worth something in the $250 million range, say men in the business. One assessment of its 1968 gross sales: $300 million.
At ninety-six, E. K. Gaylord is a prototypical regional press lord. His Oklahoma Publishing Company owns the state's most influential and profitable newspaper and TV properties (as well as television stations in Texas, Wisconsin, and Florida), and is wont to employ them as weapons of war against legislation he dislikes (the Great Society's Model Cities program) and politicians he opposes (Oklahoma's liberal former senator Mike Monroney).
Don Reynolds' headquarters are in Arkansas, where he owns newspapers, radio and television outlets; his Donrey Media Group spreads westward and follows patterns of regional concentration: ten newspapers in Oklahoma, radio-television combinations in Laredo, Texas, and (not shown here) Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada, and a scattering of newspapers in California, Washington, Nevada, and Hawaii. Invoking limits on what publishers call "the people's right to know," Reynolds and Gaylord are closemouthed about their fortunes. Some insiders' guesses about the worth of the two baronies: Reynolds, $30 to $35 million; Gaylord, $60 million. Last year, we were reliably told, Gaylord grossed about $33 million.
The Chandler family is one of the most formidable institutions in Southern California, and their Los Angeles Times is the most powerful paper in the West (daily circulation: way ahead of all competition in California at 958,124, and rising), and not at all shy about exercising its considerable (generally Republican) influence. It is also, perhaps, the most improved American newspaper of recent decades. That would satisfy most publishers, but the Times-Mirror Company's interests have spread eastward and northward to include a trail of book publishers (including one important one, NAL-World), Popular Science magazine, joint ownership of the L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service, and a forest-products operation which yields the Times the paper it's printed on. Times-Mirror's 1968 net income from operations, on revenues of $353 million: $24,197,000.
Scripps-Howard's chain of sixteen daily newspapers in major cities now reaches a circulation of 2,248,267. "Annual revenue from all sources" for the newspaper company "exceeds $250 million," according to company president Jack R. Howard. Sources of the income include United Press International (E. W. Scripps Co. owns 95 percent), news syndicates, and the World Almanac. In the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Memphis, where the E. W. Scripps Company has a predominant position in newspaper ownership, its publicly owned kinsman, the Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Company, owns television properties.
Scripps-Howard Broadcasting's annual report for 1968 noted a year of "turmoil, tensions and taxes"—an apparent reference both to national and to industry unrest—but was able to report net operating revenues for the year of $22 million and net income of $4.9 million. Jack Howard cited as one source of trouble "an accelerating trend of actions and proposals by the FCC which would change long-standing historical patterns of ownership in the broadcasting industry to promote affirmatively a wider diversification of control" of the mass media. He advised stockholders, "We are hopeful that industry efforts to reverse this trend will be successful, but we feel that our stockholders should be aware of the situation." There are clouds in medialand.