WASHINGTON -- John Quinn, executive vice president of the Gannett newspaper group, said Wednesday concentration of newspaper ownership is not hurting the diversity of opinions voiced by the nation's media.
'There is no lessening of diversity,' Quinn told an American Enterprise Institute seminar. 'I see an increase in diversity, ... an emergence of professional editors running the papers with more freedom.'
Rob Small, president of The Daily Dispatch of Moline, Ill., and a former part owner of United Press International, said 'the top 25 (newspaper) chains' now control a significant portion of circulation.
'I think it (group ownership question) is worthy of your attention,' he told the audience, comprised largely of reporters, editors and publishers.
Small said editors have a 'very strong voice' at his Midwestern-based family newspaper group to the degree that even the endorsement of presidential candidates is decided at the local editorial level.
Columnist Nick Thimmesch, moderator of the panel, noted that while the United States experienced a population explosion in the 1950s and 1960s, the number of daily newspapers and their circulation have remained stable.
'By last count, there are 1,711 daily nespapers with an aggregate circulation of 62.4 million,' he said. 'Back in 1960, there were 1,763 newspapers -- more than now -- but their circulation was about 3.5 million less, at 58.9 million.'
Thimmesch said during the same period the number of weeklies declined but their circulation has more than doubled.
Gannett, with 88 newspapers plus the national newspaper USA Today, is the largest newspaper group in the United States in terms of number and circulation. Knight Ridder has 32 papers and is second, and Newhouse is third with 27 papers.
'A good case can be made that when a group takes over a local paper, that paper winds up with a better staff, a better product, and is more independent of local pressures,' Thimmesch said.
'(But) those who are concerned about the growing concentration of the media, and group ownership of newspapers, see ominous signs,' he said. 'They claim that freedom of expression in the media is threatened, and that too much power is being held by, say, newspaper groups which buy out other newspaper groups, like the big fish eating the next smallest one and on down the line.'
Charles Perlik Jr., president of the Newspaper Guild, pedicted there would be an increasing number of radio and television station acquisitions by large media corporations and other giant firms following a recent Federal Communications Commission proposal.
The FCC proposal calls for the 'seven-station' rule to be lifted. Under the rule, in effect since 1953, no single owner can hold more than seven television stations, seven AM and seven FM radio stations.
'I see a mad rush for further consolidation,' Perlik said.