By: Mark Fitzgerald In 1993, more newspaper firms moved beyond experimentation to full-scale embrace of telecommunications, electronic information and interactive media sp.
IN 1993, THE newspaper industry pulled off Main Street and sped headlong up the entrance ramp to the information superhighway. A decade after a few pioneering newspaper companies got burned on videotex, increasing numbers of big industry players moved beyond timid experimentation to a wholesale embrace of telecommunications, electronic information and interactive media. Once upon a time, it was said newspapers were powerful because they bought ink by the barrelful. Now newspapers are renewing their determination to remain the No. 1 information providers in their communities by buying fiber-optic cable by the mile. Signs of a massive commitment to new technology were everywhere during the year. While newspaper industry lobbyists beseeched Congress to slow the unchaining of the Baby Bells, newspapers rushed into partnerships with phone companies as if it were the last dance on Sadie Hawkins Day. In Atlanta, Cox Newspapers and BellSouth Corp. agreed to offer the newspapers' classified ads and the phone company's Yellow Pages ads via the 511 phone number recently granted to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. The Detroit News is joining with Ameritech Corp. in a similar venture. Other newspapers also announced plans to go on line in 1993. The New York Times joined with Nynex Corp. to test a service that allows subscribers to get information by fax on demand. The Chicago Tribune, Albuquerque Tribune, Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and Newsday all agreed to have the full text of their paper plus additional data delivered each morning on one computer service or another. The New York Times even turned to Dow Jones & Co. Inc., publisher of a competing national paper, to carry its text on the electronic Dow Jones Business Information Services. Even as more papers were moving into these once-unfamiliar areas, newspaper companies were planning ever more audacious leaps into new media. The PaineWebber media outlook conference last month, for example, resembled nothing so much as a high-tech bazaar as one newspaper chain executive after another trooped to the podium to unveil newspaper products that required neither newsprint nor ink. Dow Jones announced that an interactive version of its flagship Wall Street Journal will be available in 1994. Tribune Co. said it is about to sign an agreement with Time Warner to test interactive media in the circulation area of its Orlando Sentinel. Tribune bought into interactive media with the purchase of Compton's Multimedia Publishing Group in 1993. Pulitzer Publishing Co. announced that it is spending $5 million on an interactive educational television project with programmer RXL Communications. For its part, Times Mirror Co. created a new corporate unit to explore interactive possibilities. Knight-Ridder Inc. ? its failed Viewtron experiment was emblematic of the 1980s market rejection of videotex ? aggressively pursued electronic media on a number of fronts in 1993. The company announced its acquisition of a financial database company and said it is close to announcing a video news service. In the meantime, at its Boulder, Colo., research and development center, Knight-Ridder is continuing its potentially ground-breaking experiments toward a truly electronic newspaper, a computer tablet that could capture a dizzying array of information and graphics. Probably nothing, however, better symbolized this rush toward the electronic information future than decisions by Cox Enterprises Inc. and Advance Publications Inc., the Newhouse family's media company, to join the bidding for the most feverishly sought media prize of 1993: Paramount Communications Inc.
The biggest deal
In this dizzying, low-oxygen atmosphere of the electronic future, newspapers ? those actual broadsheet or tabloid masses of print and paper ? sometimes were treated almost as afterthoughts. With all the talk about new media, it was easy for some people to forget that the biggest newspaper deal ever made occurred in 1993. June 10, the New York Times Co. announced that it was acquiring the Boston Globe in a $1.1 billion merger agreement. The transaction between newspapers operated by two of the country's most prominent newspaper families represented the biggest purchase price ever paid for a U.S. paper. It also left current management at the Globe with extraordinary independence. The management agreement, which lasts five years, said the Globe would retain "full editorial autonomy." Because the Taylor family trust that controlled Affiliated Publications, the Globe's publisher, was to expire in 1996, a sale of the Globe was predictable. Yet a few analysts said they were surprised that Times would spend so much on a company with virtually all of its properties in print media. However, Times president and chief operating officer Lance Primis explained at the time of the announcement that the company "is buying a market." "We think that Boston is going to have a hell of a run again. And buying the Globe is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to be dominant both in Boston and in the Northeast generally," Primis said.
Black and white and still read all over
There was good reason, at long last, for optimism about newspapers, even in the Northeast. With the notable exception of those in California, newspapers generally grew throughout the nation in 1993. At the end of the year, the Newspaper Association of America predicted that 1993 advertising revenues would be about 4% more than the depressed results in 1992. Despite the noise from competing media, newspapers remained the No. 1 advertising vehicle, attracting a 23.5% share of total ad spending. Television remained in second place, grabbing about 22% of the market. And, despite soul-searching about readership, newspapers indisputably remain a mass medium. On a typical day, NAA said, 115 million people read a daily newspaper ? a figure that jumps to 125 million on any given Sunday.
Certainly anyone looking for signs of vitality in newspapers needed to look no farther than New York City. For the better part of a decade, many have predicted that the Big Apple would not be able to sustain three competing tabloids. That conventional wisdom ultimately may prove true. But in 1993, the two tabloids that used to be on everybody's endangered species list ? the New York Post and New York Daily News ? rose from their presumed graves in spectacular fashion. When 1992 ended, the Daily News was owned by creditors of the estate of press lord-turned-con man Robert Maxwell. It entered the year having bled an estimated $100 million in red ink since 1983. And though it also entered the year with a proposed new owner, real estate developer and magazine publisher Mortimer Zuckerman, some substantial stumbling blocks remained. For one thing, there was union opposition to the sale. As Zuckerman completed his purchase of the Daily News Jan. 7 for $37.3 million, he issued a blizzard of pink slips ? ultimately firing 170 editorial and advertising employees. He also played hardball with suppliers, winning breaks on the price of newsprint. At the same time, Zuckerman, who owns U.S. News & World Report magazine, showed that he did not mind spending money. Taking advantage of financial uncertainty at the Post, Zuckerman raided its staff ? hiring its editor, Lou Colasuonno; managing editor; metro editor; and premier columnist, Mike McAlary. (McAlary later attempted to rejoin the Post but was prevented from writing his column by a court order sought by the Daily News. He also was injured in a serious car accident during the fall and had not resumed writing the column by the end of the year.) In July, Zuckerman recruited a veteran editor at Rupert Murdoch's tabloids, Martin Dunn, as Daily News editor in chief. By the fall, Zuckerman was saying the Daily News was profitable again, and circulation was indisputably and strongly up from the disastrous level after the five-month strike against then-owner Tribune in 1990 and 1991. The Daily News' death-defying performance was exceeded only by the Sturm and Drang downtown at the Post. At the beginning of the year, the Post was in no better shape than the Daily News. Its owner, another real estate developer, Peter Kalikow, had filed for bankruptcy in late 1992. By February, investment banker Steven Hoffenberg was allowed to run the paper while he tried to put together financing for a purchase. Hoffenberg ran into trouble when the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit and froze the assets of his investment firm. But things didn't turn truly manic until Hoffenberg's partner, yet another real estate developer, won permission from bankruptcy court to take over the paper March 12. Abraham Hirschfeld, a 73-year-old native of Poland, previously had made his most memorable mark in journalism by spitting ? twice ? at Miami Herald reporter Bonnie Weston in 1989. Outraged by the prospect of the paper being owned by Hirschfeld, Post journalists, led by editor Pete Hamill, seized control of the paper and March 16 published the most remarkable edition of the Post in its 192 years. "Who Is This Nut?" a typical headline in that issue said. A front-page drawing of Post founder Alexander Hamilton with a tear running from his eye was followed by 24 pages of vituperation against Hirschfeld and Amsterdam News owner Wilbert Tatum, who Hirschfeld said would be co-publisher and editor. "Honest Abe Doesn't Know Spit About Journalism," one headline said. "Hate-'Em Tatum Ready For Slime Time," another said. Post journalists made peace with Hirschfeld three days later, but March 30, the businessman agreed to turn the paper over to Murdoch. Employees cheered Murdoch wildly the first time that he stepped back into the newsroom of the paper that he had owned from 1976 to 1988. The cheering soon faded, however. Murdoch demanded that one of the tabloid's once-powerful unions give him four months in which he could fire any employee. In late September, the Newspaper Guild, which represented 300 of the paper's 700 employees, went on strike. When union drivers and production workers honored the picket line, Murdoch withdrew his $25 million offer for the paper and said he was walking away. The move had the desired effect: The drivers and craft union members crossed the picket line and the strike collapsed. Murdoch forced Guild members to apply for their jobs, a procedure that was held on the sidewalk.
Hardball labor tactics did not work in Pittsburgh, where no newspaper was published from May 17, 1992, until Jan. 18, 1993. Only one paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, came back in the formerly two-paper city, however. Scripps Howard's Pittsburgh Press, which had been the dominant partner in the Pittsburgh joint operating agreement, did not survive the strike and sold its assets to the Post-Gazette. Sacramento also dropped from the ever-dwindling list of two-paper cities when the 142-year-old Union announced in October that it would cease being a daily and publish three times a week. About a quarter of its 126 employees were laid off.
Targeting new readers
Newspaper openings were far more representative of 1993 than shutterings, however, as newspapers intensified their wooing of nontraditional readers. The most obvious example was accelerating investment by mainstream newspapers in Spanish-language publications. The Chicago Sun-Times joined with La Raza, a weekly, to produce La Raza Domingo, a Spanish-language tabloid delivered inside the Sunday Sun-Times to targeted ZIP codes. Rival Chicago Tribune launched a free-standing, free-distribution Spanish-language weekly called Exito. In Denver, the Rocky Mountain News inaugurated Las Noticias, a weekly Spanish-language supplement. A daily newspaper aimed at women was launched in New York City, but Her New York quickly switched to weekly publication.
Newspaper crime blotter
Journalists became the news several times during 1993. For example, most of the nation first heard the name David Koresh when a raid by federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents went tragically wrong on the morning of Feb. 28. In the aftermath of the deaths of four agents during the raid came bitter accusations ? including a lawsuit filed by an ATF agent ? that the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald somehow had alerted members of Koresh's Branch Davidians about the raid. However, subsequent investigations by the Society of Professional Journalists and the federal government not only exonerated the newspaper ? and other journalists present at the raid ? but praised the massive investigative reporting on the group done by the 45,000-circulation paper's staff. In New York City, three Colombians pleaded guilty and another was awaiting trial in the execution-style murder of Manuel de Dios Unanue, a former editor in chief of El Diario/La Prensa who reported on criminal activities of Colombia's cocaine cartels. Federal authorities said de Dios was killed on orders from leaders of the Cali drug cartel. Several journalists were in legal trouble during 1993. In Chicago, a sports clerk at the Sun-Times was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual activities with male teen-aged high school athletes whom he met while writing free-lance articles for the paper. And at the Tribune, fired associate subject editor Searle "Ed" Hawley, 55, was sentenced to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to having sex with teen-aged boys in his home. Five top marketing executives were accused in a civil lawsuit of running a competing direct-mail advertising company from the facilities of the York (Pa.) Newspaper Co., publisher of the York Dispatch and York Daily Record. One of the most flagrant incidents of plagiarism in years occurred in 1993, when the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal lifted a copyrighted, four-page special section from the student-run State News of Michigan State University in Lansing. The State Journal's version included the typos, odd wordings and errors of the college paper's effort. State Journal editor Zack Binkley apologized for the plagiarism in a correction and column. He blamed a series of unintentional errors. For the first time, minority newsroom employment climbed above 10% of total jobs, the American Society of Newspaper Editors reported in 1993. This slow progress, however, has done little to boost the morale of black journalists. A major survey by the National Association of Black Journalists found that black journalists and their bosses operate from sharply different mindsets ? to the point that one in three blacks is afraid to bring up race-related issues for fear that it will hurt his chances for career advancement. NABJ's convention made industry news for that survey ? and national headlines for a session on hip-hop music that set off a furor. More than 200 NABJ members, most of them women, stormed out of the convention when Bushwick Bill of the Houston rap group Geto Boys hurled invective and profanity at a woman who challenged his continual descriptions of women as "bitches" and "ho's." Bushwick Bill, who is a dwarf, later quailed under a tongue-lashing from departing NABJ president Sidmel Estes-Sumpter and apologized. ?(New York Post staffers March 16 published the most remarkable edition of the paper in its 192 years. A front-page drawing of Post founder Alexander Hamilton with a tear running from his eye was followed by 24 pages of vituperation against the men temporarily running the newspaper.) [Photo & Caption] ?("We think that Boston is going to have a hell of a run again. And buying the Globe is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to be dominant both in Boston and in the Northeast generally.") [Caption] ?(? Lance Primis, president and chief operating officer, New York Times Co.)[ Photo & ID] ?(Photos by Robin Graubard) [Caption] ?(Some of the players in the nearly yearlong New York Post saga (from left): Abraham Hirschfeld; Peter Kalikow; and Hirschfeld again, this time kissing Amsterdam News owner Wilbert Tatum.) [Photos & Caption] ?(More than 200 NABJ members, most of them women, stormed out of the convention when Bushwick Bill of the Houston rap group Geto Boys hurled invective and profanity at a woman who challenged his continual descriptions of women as "bitches" and "ho's." Bushwick Bill (right) later quailed under a tongue-lashing from departing NABJ president Sidmel Estes-Sumpter (left) and apologized.) [Photos & Caption]