Gannett-Tribune Deal May Reduce News Coverage

Newsroom Cuts Likely To Hit Investigative, Public Interest Reporting

Written by Lia Collen, Common Cause intern on April 26, 2016


Whistleblower Complaint

Gannett Co., already the nation’s largest media organization, went public on Monday with an $815 million unsolicited bid to add Tribune Publishing to its portfolio, raising new questions about the future of competition in the news business.

The proposed acquisition would give Gannett control of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and six other newspapers. The company currently owns 107 mostly small and midsize newspapers in addition to its flagship, USA Today, and is the nation’s largest publisher with 12 percent of daily U.S. newspaper circulation.

Tribune management has not commented on the deal, but it’s expected to get close scrutiny from federal anti-trust regulators. The bid is part of a growing trend of newsroom consolidations, with larger companies buying those that are struggling financially as consumers increasingly rely on the Internet for news and information.

“What public benefit can there be in allowing one mega-company to own more than a hundred newspapers in exchange for closing down local community papers in markets around the country,” asked Mike Copps, special advisor for Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “Media monopoly poisons the diversity that self-government requires. Federal regulators should stop this deal.”

In a letter to Tribune CEO Justin Dearborn, Gannett Chief Executive Robert Dickey argued that “By combining, we would create a company with the financial stability and flexibility equipped to preserve journalistic integrity, high standards and excellence for years to come. We would be able to both empower our journalists and facilitate the creation of exceptional content while delivering stockholder value.”

A Gannett-Tribune merger would change the news for thousands of people across the country. Even as more Americans get their news online and through social media, the overwhelming majority of the news people read, from whatever source, can be traced back to newspaper and – in major markets -- broadcast newsrooms.

To Todd O’Boyle, director of Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, Dickey’s reference to “stockholder value” sounded suspiciously like a warning of coming cuts newsroom staffs and budgets.

Any time that newsrooms are consolidated, redundancies are created – which leads to layoffs, O’Boyle observed. “When you layoff reporters, you undermine the quality and quantity of news. The local electorate is less informed and more politicians are held unaccountable for their work.”

Depleted newsrooms make it easier for organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate lobby that masquerades as a charity, to keep their work influencing public policy out of public view. After decades in which it secretly helped write hundreds of state laws to benefit its corporate members, ALEC has come under heightened scrutiny from reporters and democracy advocates in recent years. That sort of journalism is less likely to continue if newsrooms suffer further budget and manpower cuts.

“The state of the newsroom and the number of professional reporters employed has a real impact on your ability to get the news,” O’Boyle said.

Tribune’s board is currently reviewing Gannett’s bid. If they accept, it will be up to federal regulators to protect the public from a news monopoly.

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Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Media and Democracy

Tags: Media Monopolization

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