Two major but unpublicized trends in the newspaper industry raise serious questions about the diversity of source of information available to the American public and the objectivity of the information that the public does receive.
One concerns the increasing monopolization among newspapers and the other concerns interlocking directorates — the links newspapers have to institutions they are supposed to cover objectively.
Today there are an estimated 1,500 cities in the United States with daily newspapers … but only forty with competing newspaper managements. Of all cities with newspapers, 97.5 percent have newspaper monopolies.
And the 50 largest newspaper chains in the U.S. now account for more than two-thirds of all daily newspaper sales.
Further, in 22 cities, so-called competitive dailies have quietly merged virtually all of their advertising, printing and business operations. This is a result of the 1970 Newspaper Preservation Act which allows major dailies in the same city to ignore anti-trust laws by combining their non-editorial functions.
One of the most recent such mergers was between the St. Louis Globe Democrat, owned by the Newhouse chain, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch, owned by the Pulitzer Publishing Company, which agreed to share business operations in April, 1979, and to split the profits on a fifty-fifty basis.
Critics contend that under such arrangements there is no incentive for newspapers to improve their editorial operation since they will only have to share the profits with someone else in the end.
The alarming trend toward monopolization led Congressman John J. LaFalce (D-N.Y.) to call for a series of hearings in early 1980. LaFalce said “I am concerned over the recent wave of mergers and acquisitions in the United States mass media field and wish to take an in-depth look at the apparent trend toward greater concentration in media ownership.” His hearings, which started on January 21, 1980, have not been widely publicized.
At least one solution to the problem has been advanced by media scholar Ben Bagdikian. He called for forced divestiture of some of the newspapers owned by large corporations, saying it could be done without infringing on the First Amendment’s free press guarantee.
An equally ominous sign for the future of an open press is the extraordinary number of official linkages between newspapers and large corporations.
A major study, reported in the Columbia Journalism Review last year but not reported widely elsewhere, revealed that most of the 290 directors of America’s 25 largest newspaper companies are tied to institutions the papers are supposed to cover. (Financial aid for the study was provided by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.)
The directors of these newspaper companies sit on the boards of regional, national, and multinational business corporations; are partners or directors of banks, insurance companies, and corporate law firms; serve on the boards of chambers of commerce, hospitals, universities, charities, and foundations; and some have held high federal office or have served in state or local government.
Twenty-four of the directors also are members of either the Council on Foreign Relations and/or the Trilateral Commission, both little-known but powerful policy-setting elite groups established by David Rockefeller. Three members of the latter two groups also are members of the Business Roundtable, called the “most powerful secret lobby” in Washington, another nomination for the “best censored” stories of 1979.
The potential dangers of such interlocking, directorates was highlighted by a 1978 study of 130 of the nation’s largest corporations by a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. Calling for congressional action, the subcommittee concluded: “These patterns of director interrelationships imply an overwhelming potential for antitrust abuse and possible conflicts of interest…”
One problem of interlocks for the mass media, cited most frequently by reporters, is that of self-censorship.
Investigative journalist Mark Dowie, who broke the Pinto story in Mother Jones in 1977, said the story was available all along to reporters who knew how and where to look for it. But Dowie remembers how long it took most newspapers to follow up — “All they wrote was the company line, if they wrote anything at all.”
The lack of media coverage given to increasing monopolization and interlocking corporate directorates in the press qualifies this story for nomination as one o£ the “best censored” stories of 1979.
Columbia Journalism Review, Nov/Dec 1979, “Interlocking Directorates, by Peter Dreier and Steve Weinberg; St. Louis Journalism Review, June & Aug/Sept 1979; The Progressive, June 1979, “The Media Monopolies,” by Ben H. Bagdikian; AP, San Rafael Independent Journal, CA, Dec. 14, 1978, “Forced Newspaper Divestiture Urged.