The changing world of communications

In Boston today, employees of the Globe are negotiating to keep their newspaper alive. And in recent weeks, big dailies in Denver and Seattle closed. The parent companies of both Chicago’s dailies are in bankruptcy. So today’s headlines make this worried report on media consolidation, published in 1962, seem almost quaint. The author is James L.C. Ford, professor of journalism at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

news-dinosaur“Nowhere is the changing world of communications more in evidence than in major metropolitan centers. In Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City, therefore, as in other major cities, one finds the epitome of diminishing newspaper competition and the rise of electronic media. The number of one-daily cities increased from 42.2 percent in 1910 to 82 percent in 1954.

“Chicago has witnessed the greatest newspaper decline. Sixty years ago, it had five morning papers — the Times-Herald, the Record, the Tribune, the Inter-Ocean, the Examiner. Of these only the Tribune remains. In the Windy City, there were four afternoon dailies: the Post, the Journal, the American, and the Daily News. Of these, only two — the American and Daily News — are left. It is true that the Sun-Times has appeared, representing the consolidation of two papers under the Marshall Field banner. However, the News also belongs to Field and the American now is owned by the Tribune. So in Chicago, we have only two newspaper ownerships, competing along Lake Michigan and through the hinterland.

“Sixty years ago in St. Louis, the morning field was shared between the Globe-Democrat and the Republic. Today there is only the Globe-Democrat, belonging to the Newhosue national chain, the most rapidly growing group in the metropolitan field today. In 1901, the afternoon field was dominated then as now by Pulitzer’s Post-Dispatch but there were three rivals — the Chronicle of Scripps-McRae, the Evening Star, and the Times. Today all rivalry is over and the P-D stands alone. St. Louis has been reduced from six to two dailies.

“In Kansas City, sixty years ago there were the morning Journal and the Times while the Star, the World, and the Post competed in the evening — five dailies in all. Today there are only two left, the Star and the Times, under the same ownership and without any newspaper competition. . . . ”

“These are the fact of life in the communications word. Is the marketplace of ideas dwindling? It is certain that units of communications are being concentrated ever more steadily within a limited control. Newspapers and radio, magazines and movies and TV, they are being bundled together to fit in a single portfolio. No one man has them all in his pocket by any means but fewer and fewer men have packaged more and more papers and stations together conveniently for profit.

“Is there a danger point for the American who seeks information to carry out his duties as a citizen? Should there be limits to the control of communications? If so, how should the government function to protect legitimate private interests as well as the overruling public concern?” — James L.C. Ford

Excerpted from “Who Owns What We Read, Hear, and See?” FOCUS/Midwest, July 1962