Kiss Of Death? p. 11

By: George Garneau Countdown to 1998 JOA expiration at Evansville Press begins;
Scripps serves notice that it will not extend the agreement sp.

ANOTHER JOINT OPERATING agreement ? and probably a newspaper ? will bite the dust Dec. 31, 1998, when a 50-year newspaper partnership expires in Evansville, Ind.
E.W. Scripps Co., owner of the dominant Evansville Courier, has notified the privately owned Evansville Press that Scripps will not extend the JOA that has united the papers since 1938.
Scripps served notice to Hartmann Publications Inc., owner of the Press, in accordance with the terms of the JOA, the fourth-oldest such arrangement in the nation.
JOAs allow a failing newspaper to merge all functions but news with a larger competitor so the unified business can publish two newspapers.
"Obviously, we think it would be more efficient for us going forward," Scripps spokesman Rich Boehne said. "We just thought the right thing to do was to give early notice so people know."
The Courier sells 64,000 papers daily, 119,000 Sunday, compared with 32,000 papers six days a week at the evening Press.
In keeping with the decades-long circulation slide among evening papers, the Press has lost nearly one-third of its 1983 circulation of 42,000.
If the Press closes, 45 journalists as well as some production and distribution personnel could lose their jobs. The Press has said only that it will examine its options.
"It's much too early to think about what's going to happen in 1999," said Bill Jackson, Press president and editor, who said he was not surprised by Scripps' announcement, in light of the dimming prospects of evening papers nationally. He said the Press is profitable. "We feel we still have options and plenty of time to explore them," he added, declining to name any.
However, analysts and academics regard the notification as a death warrant for the Press.
With no press, computers, and production or distribution staff and only a fraction of newspaper readership, the Press without the Courier has little hope of surviving.
No other junior partner has survived a JOA breakup. In fact, JOAs stand a better chance of survival than JOA junior newspapers.
"More than likely, it means the [Press] is going to disappear," said newspaper analyst John Morton of Washington. "It has proved to be a pretty hopeless thing to try and compete. The history of these kinds of efforts is pretty bleak and I wouldn't advise it."
One newsroom staffer, who did not give his name, said, "I don't think any of the employees care to comment on something that affects their jobs."
Academics and analysts long have predicted the demise of weaker JOA partners.
As junior partners, usually afternoon papers, continue to lose circulation to morning papers, the costs of printing and distribution drain profits from the JOA. Eventually, junior papers are bought out or die when the partnership agreement expires.
Seeing the trend, Scripps, which owned the Press for most of the JOA's life, made changes in 1986.
In a controversial transaction, Scripps sold the shrinking afternoon Press to Scripps executive Robert Hartmann, bought the ascendant Courier from the estate of Robert Enlow and other shareholders, acquired full control of the joint Sunday paper and acquired a majority of the JOA, which had been a 50-50 proposition.
At the time, the Newspaper Guild protested the deal to the Justice
Department, which oversees JOAs through its Antitrust Division. Then-Guild president Charles Perlik warned that the deal was set up "so as to guarantee the permanent subordination and decline of the Press."
Current Guild president Charles Dale said Perlik's prediction is coming true, unfortunately for the Press.
"I think it's a gross abuse of the Newspaper Preservation Act and events certainly prove that," Dale said.
Morton said Scripps' 1986 deal "put them in the driver's seat. Now, they're throwing out the passenger."
Gannett Co. Inc. played that tune last year when it orchestrated an ownership switch at the Honolulu JOA, buying the dominant Honolulu Advertiser from Persis Corp. and selling its Honolulu Star while increasing the profit split and taking over the Sunday paper.
As it stands now, 17 U.S. JOAs support two papers. But JOAs were unable to preserve two dailies in St. Louis; Miami; Knoxville; Shreveport, La.; Cincinnati, and Tulsa.
In St. Louis and Miami, JOAs continue to pay millions of dollars in profits a year to JOA partners whose papers long since closed.
First formed early in this century but not legally sanctioned until the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1974, JOAs are designed to preserve failing papers by creating government-approved daily newspaper monopolies. By combining business operations ? also dividing up markets, fixing prices and splitting profits, the papers do not compete financially but do compete for readers.
Unfortunately, JOAs are turning out to be little more than temporary respites from what troubled competing newspapers in the first place: declining afternoon readership and insufficient advertising for No. 2 papers.
"JOAs delay the consequences of what is happening to American newspapers but don't prevent them," Morton said. "They prolong the lives of newspapers, but what caused them to be formed gets to the point where it doesn't make sense for the stronger partner to continue."
Next to expire, in 2005, is the pact between Chronicle Publishing Co.'s San Francisco Chronicle and Hearst Corp.'s San Francisco Examiner. Morton said it is unlikely that the 557,000-circulation Chronicle would renew the deal that is keeping the 135,000-circulation Examiner afloat.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Scroll the Latest Job Opportunities From The Media Job Board