Chronicling the news duoploy

Bay Area newspapers owned by Knight Ridder are on the chopping block selling block. Will consolidation squelch the diversity of voices, undermine journalistic integrity? Does the deal break anti-trust laws?

From an article by
Charles Layton in the American Journalism Review:

This summer, a series of newspaper sales involving six media companies — Knight Ridder, McClatchy, Hearst, Gannett, Stephens Media Group and MediaNews Group — will reshape the newspaper business in the Bay Area. Unless those transactions are blocked by government antitrust action, one group of local papers, owned by MediaNews, will more than double its circulation overnight, becoming larger and more potent economically than its big-city rival, the Chronicle.

But when all the pending deals are signed, MediaNews will own not just the ANG papers but also the Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times, which means it will dominate not just one Bay Area county, as now, but three contiguous ones...The papers owned by MediaNews will have almost 80 percent more circulation than the Chronicle. They will have more newsroom employees (about 770 compared with some 400 at the Chronicle) and perhaps more advertising clout — and they will have the Chronicle surrounded.
Hearst News is a buyer in the Knight Ridder sale, and thus investing in papers in partial/direct competition with its own jem, the SF Chron. Hearst's move leads some to suspect coordination between Hearst and MediaNews to distribute turf and ad revenue in possible violation of anti-trust legislation. Whether or not the call for an anti-trust review issuing from some activists and newspaper interests is successful, the sale is certainly creating a stir and will shift the Bay Area news scene dramatically.

All the news about the sale of the Knight Ridder papers consolidating several SF Bay Area news groups hit the fan near May 2. It wasn't just that didn't have time to write about it, I think this is the wrong sad story. The questions about faltering editorial independence and diminished public benefit were more real during the Examiner and SF Chron consolidation. A crisis about journalistic integrity was most relevent in transformation of the City into a "single town" daily publication. Most of the Knight Ridder papers are local functionaries existing to serve discrete communities and float on local ad revenues.

The controversy in this supposed monopoly grab is more directly an economic than a journalistic concern. In that vien, reports suggest that the monopoly accusations may not meet the formal requisites for anti-trust under the law, although the maps certainly makes it look like a duoploy.

The SF Chron Editor, Bronstein jokes with Layton about the reputation of the MediaNews owner, Dean Singleton, for slashing both costs and editorial quality at the papers he acquires:
"But editorially," he says, "we're very pleased that Dean Singleton is going to own these properties, because we feel that the issue of quality will distinguish us even further. There are some things he might do at those papers that will make them less valuable rather than more valuable. We see opportunities here."