>Corporate owners dominate the field

>Over the years when asked about offering freelance articles or reprints to more than one newspaper, I have offhandedly mentioned that writers should try not to offer the same piece to papers owned by the same companies. Well, that’s getting pretty hard these days. A quick Google search landed me at a very useful site from the Columbia Journalism Review that tells who owns what. You can find it at http://www.cjr.org/resources.

The situation is even worse than I thought. Let’s just look at three companies out of about 30 listed. The MediaNews Group has purchased every single one of the general interest newspapers I worked for back in California. They now own the San Jose Mercury News, all of the community newspapers that used to be part of the Metro group in Silicon Valley, the Pacifica Tribune, the Milpitas Post, where I did my internship, and lots more. In fact, they boast 57 newspapers nationwide, far too many to list here, plus other types of media.

The Tribune Company owns a long list of radio stations, plus the L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Hartford Courant, three Spanish-language papers and more.

Lee Enterprises lists eight single-spaced pages of newspapers. Those include the Newport News-Times, where I worked for a year, and several other Oregon papers.

What does this mean for freelancers? It’s not good news. First, these companies share staff-written stories to the extent that they need far fewer freelancers. To take one example, the weekly community newspapers in Silicon Valley (Santa Clara County, CA) and the big metro daily, the San Jose Mercury News, are all owned by the same company. Therefore, whenever the Merc wants a local story, it can just grab it from the weeklies. Looking at its website, it clearly makes great use of this option. I’m told the writers don’t make any extra money, just extra exposure.

Second, when you’re looking to market a story to multiple papers, the fact that so few owners run so many of them shortens the list of places you can offer that story.
It may be that in some cases papers clear across the country rarely share or even communicate with each other, but you can’t know that for sure.

This also means, for journalism in general, that papers are being standardized, losing their local personalities. When I started, I worked for local publishers who were part of the community and independent as hell. Now far too many publishers are just employees of the bigger corporation, and independents find it hard to compete.

That said, don’t give up. There are still a lot of papers covering a lot of territory. But do make use of the CJR list to see who owns what before you go offering the same piece to papers in the same family. The list includes links to the individual newspapers, giving you access to editors’ contact information and, in some cases, guidelines for writers.

This entry got longer than I intended, but it’s an important subject.

One Comment on “>Corporate owners dominate the field”

  1. markm says:

    >Hi Sue,Great content, I think I’ll link to you from my website… An additional note about Lee Enterprises is that they also own the company, Town News (www.townnews.com), which provides hosting and online services for newspapers. The interesting thing is that with over 1500 newspaper customers, Lee is actually hosting and deriving income from the websites of scores of Lee’s competing papers. The structure of the Lee/Town News relationship is such that I’d venture to guess that most of the competition is blissfully unaware…

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