newspaper: Consolidation of Newspaper Publishing and Other Developments

In England large newspaper-publishing empires were built up by Lords Rothermere, Northcliffe, and Beaverbrook. The great American chains were founded by Joseph Pulitzer, J. G. Bennett, William Randolph Hearst, F. A. Munsey, E. W. Scripps, the McCormick-Pattersons, Frank E. Gannett, Charles L. and John S. Knight, and Hermann Ridder. More recent media empires with major operations on both sides of the Atlantic were created by Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell.

As the U.S. population in the latter half of the 20th cent. shifted from cities to suburbs and as competition from other media grew, many large city newspapers were forced to cease publication, merged with their competitors, or were taken over by newspaper chains such as the Gannett Company or Knight Ridder. In 2006 the latter was itself taken over by the McClatchy Company chain. Further consolidation in the 21st cent. made the New Media Investment Group's GateHouse Media the largest chain by number of newspapers. In 2019 New Media announced the planned purchase of Gannett. As a result of such changes, many cities that had two or more papers in the early 20th cent. now have only one.

In 1982, using satellite transmission and color presses, the Gannett chain established a new national newspaper, USA Today, published and circulated throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times, are the U.S. newspapers with the largest circulations and are read all over the country. Small towns and rural districts usually have daily or weekly local papers made up largely of syndicated matter, with a page or two of local news and editorials. These local papers are frequently influential political organs.

Since the invention of the telegraph, which enormously facilitated the rapid gathering of news, the great news agencies, such as Reuters in England, Agence France-Presse in France, and Associated Press and United Press International in the United States, have sold their services to newspapers and to their associate members. Improvements in photocomposition and in printing (especially the web offset press) have enhanced the quality of print and made possible the publication of huge editions at great speed. Advertising revenues became increasingly important, and by the beginning of the 20th cent., newspapers were supported primarily by the sale of advertising space. The dependence on advertising income made newspapers highly vulnerable to the rise of the Internet at the end of the century.

Computer technology also has had an enormous impact on the production of news and newspapers, and by the 1990s when the first independent on-line daily appeared on the the Internet, it also had begun to affect the nature of newspapers. By the decade's end some 700 papers had web sites, some of which carried news gathered by their own staffs, and papers regularly scooped themselves by publishing electronically before the print edition appeared. Meanwhile, independent Internet-based news sources proliferated. The growth of on-line editions of established newspapers, other on-line news sources, and on-line venues offering free classified ad space also affected newspapers' sale of advertising space and the production of vital advertising revenue.

In the early 21st cent., as newspaper owners devoted more and more attention to their Web editions, print advertising was typically declining while sales of advertising for increasingly popular on-line and other digital editions was growing but not enough to offset print advertising losses. Concurrently, as print readership and advertising declined, many newspapers were experiencing cuts in their budgets, buyouts, staff layoffs, and reductions in physical size, and some daily newspapers cut their news coverage, moved to publishing several days a week instead of every day, or stopped publishing a print edition. Others ceased to publish completely.

The extent to which the editorial policy of a paper is affected by the interests of its advertisers has been a subject of frequent controversy. More broadly controversial is the entire question of corporate ownership wielding vast influence through controlling interests in newspapers, radio, and television.

For discussion of newspaper censorship, see press, freedom of the. See also journalism and periodical.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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