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<v Ben Bradlee>?inaudible? good newspapers with good active local management don't fail. <v Thomas Vail>I don't think there's any city in the world that can afford two first class newspapers. <v Sam McKeel>And in the big cities, some of the newspapers that uh uh have died in recent years uh I think couldn't have been saved. Uh there will probably be more and more uh fatalities in the future. <v Narrator 1>[typewriters typing] The Buffalo Courier Express, the Cleveland Press, The Philadelphia Bulletin, The Washington Star. All of them memories now, recent victims of a changing society. In city after city, major newspapers are closing, turning many of them into one newspaper towns. A postmortem on papers that have already been lost reveals some common threads, clues to the illness that may already be affecting the newspaper in your community. This program examines the causes and effects of this troubling phenomenon. We begin in Buffalo, New York, where the recent death of the Courier Express destroyed a long tradition of vigorous newspaper competition. The Courier's roots were planted in 1834, and Mark Twain was once the paper's editor. But the Star Bulletin and Press also shared long years of success and power. Why did they fail? What responsibilities fall to a community's surviving paper? What happens in the community when a paper prints a final edition?
<v John Cowles, Jr.>The Buffalo Courier Express will cease publication with its Sunday edition of September 19th unless a buyer is found who will continue publication of the morning and Sunday paper. We make this announcement, needless to say, with great regret. [whirring] Despite our commitment, of very considerable resources, and while we initially made some progress at reducing our rate of loss, our pretax losses over the past 35 months have averaged at an annual rate of about 8.6 million dollars as we competed with the Buffalo Evening News on Sunday, as well as weekdays. <v Narrator 1>In almost every city where two papers still exist under a separate ownership, there's a battle for survival. The Courier, a morning paper who is matched against the Buffalo News, a long established afternoon publication with a commanding 3 to 1 edge newspaper sales. Both papers were once owned by families of wealth and influence in the Buffalo area, but were sold in the 70s, leaving out-of-town owners to continue the fight for supremacy. The Courier's financial base and big payday was always its Sunday edition. Until the news came out with its own Sunday paper. Reporter Fran Luka and news editor Murray Light.
<v Murray Light>Many feel that the weekend morning editions of the news uh brought the Courier to its knees. [clicks tongue] I would look at it another way that we knew that if we did not come out with the Sunday newspaper, that our existence as a newspaper in the long run very definitely was threatened. All we had to do is look at trends. What happened in other cities and see the trends of advertising in newspapers, which was going more and more to pre prints. You know how you open your Sun- a good, healthy Sunday paper you shake out and what falls out? All of these pre prints, they all go into Sundays. We knew if we didn't- at the Sunday- ultimately, it was gonna be our deaths. We knew we had to do it. <v Man 1>It was a survival move then? <v Murray Light>Oh, without any question. [machine whirring] <v Man 1>What is your reaction to the death of this newspaper? <v Fran Luka>I just feel awful about it, just like losing a best friend. I don't think it's very good. I think we need the competition for the city.
<v Man 2>Is uh obviously a step backwards for this great city like Buffalo. Uh I I understand that both sides have to give and take in situations like this. I really don't no- don't like to see these paper close. It's a paper buy every morning, I enjoy it. I think- I think it's a great part of Buffalo. Shouldn't have been let go. <v Woman 1>I read the Courier every morning and I was just very disappointed. I'm not thrilled about having just the one paper in the city now. I've always liked the two opinions and now I'm not sure what's gonna happen. <v Narrator 1>With time running out, a potential buyer was found for the Courier, one who would pay nothing for the paper's assets but assume most of its debts. The deal would ultimately stand or fall on cuts in personnel and overhead. <v Otto Silha>This is a much happier day than the the one we had last Tuesday. [inaudible chatter] I'm delighted to announce the conditional sale of the Buffalo Courier Express by Coles Media Company to News America Publishing Incorporated. The sale depends upon a substantial reduction in annual payroll having been negotiated between News America and the Courier Express's unions by Thursday, September 16. Doing this would save jobs for about 700 of the present 1100 employees.
<v Donald Kummerfeld>It's important that operating costs be dramatically reduced through agreement with the Courier Express unions. This will require a substantial reduction enforce and considerable sacrifice on the part of the newspaper's employees. These are the things that would have to be done if we were willing to take on this task and to take the business risk inherent. And if the unions uh are unwilling to do this, uh fine, we will go back to New York and we have many other papers around the world and in this country. We don't feel in any way that we want to put pressure on the unions. We believe that they would like an opportunity to discuss with us what our conditions would be in order to save this paper and save a majority of their jobs. [machine whirring] <v William Buil>Originally, they uh said they would need around 7 and a half million dollars in concessions. Uh the Newspaper Guild alone with offering 2 million dollars to them and there were 8 other unions uh with concessions and we were confident we coulda came up with uh 7 and a half million dollars in the concessions to keep the c- Courier goin'.
<v Richard Roth>The issue that uh broke this thing up in the end was- had nothing to do with cost. Who, you know, if they wanted to reduce the size of a newsroom from 157 or 156, whatever we have now, to 90, I think we might have been able to agree to that. Provided those persons were ?weren't bein'? to be laid off in a the usual manner. That is to say, volunteers first, and then if there weren't enough volunteers, by seniority starting at the bottom. I think we could've made that agree with them. The proposal was uh frankly one that was uh repugnant to us in terms of principle and that uh that is that they wanted to choose uh who among the 156 people at the Courier Express in the newsroom uh would be hire- uh who would be fired in the uh in the months and days and months following uh uh prospective takeover by News America, Rupert Murdoch's firm. [machine whirring]
<v Raymond Bliss>It shocked me, you know, I hadn't expected uh recently they've been telling us that there were a lot of moves being made to stabilize the economic situation here. And uh it caught everybody off ?the? guard. We were completely unaware. I have 5 children at home. So naturally at the age of 41 that's uh it's an awakening. Uh none of the skilled trades received severance, unfortunately, it wasn't in our contract. Consequently, uh outside of accumulated vacation credits, etcetera, there is no severance pay uh we're basically on our own financially. <v Phil Ranallo>What's new, Harry? [chuckles] How about that? Something's uh what's new is something that doesn't hit the spot. I'll tell you really it's a- it's just uh sad situation when uh that many people are thrown out of work and when the voice of the communities that have been silenced like that. 700 jobs could have been rescued. Uh I know that they scream about the seniority ?inaudible?. I I certainly am a senior member, I'm a senior member of the of of the editorial staff of the Courier Express who wanted this paper to survive and become a Murdoch product. The Courier was dead. There wasn't the case of a guy just buying a paper. The Courier was a dead issue. They were out of business and the concession to pick and choose? I don't think this is uh is not an outrageous uh demand. Certainly he had had a he had to do it differently. If he did it the same, he'd been a ?inaudible? loser too.
<v Ray Herman>I think uh in the in the end the decision uh in which our local union leadership decided that number one uh week- uh they did not ?want? destroyed the the time honored uh thing of seniority, which Mr. Murdoch apparently was, was uh Mr. Murdoch, as you know, wanted to hire and fire at will, notwithstanding seniority. I think seniority is a basic uni- union tenant. If you have to fall on uh on one tenant, I I would say seniority would be uh uh an important one to to fall on. <v Man 1>What do you feel was the predominant factor that killed off the Courier? <v Ray Herman>The News simply uh uh outgutted us uh in the trenches i- i- in this fierce war. Um their uh their parent company, Blue Chip Stamps, apparently was uh hit a mine fix. They ?were? apparently prepared to lose more money uh over the longer run than uh keep the folks who who purchased us few years back. <v Jim Baker>We stopped, in my view, covering to the degree that we had news. I view- maybe it's old fashioned for him, but I view a newspaper as just that, a newspaper [emphasis on news]. I wanted the news to be there in addition to the features and the sports and all the rest. I thought we were doing less of the news, a lot more of the features. And uh I thought the sports and the features were growing in our paper. But I I did not think the news was growing and I didn't think the local impact was there. I thought that was a big part of it. Uh so uh I thought that was very important.
<v Narrator 1>Courier Express editorial writer Joseph Zelnick had two newspapers fold under him in the same year. He worked for the Philadelphia Bulletin when it failed in January 1982, and he had worked at the Courier Express only five months when it became an economic casualty in September. <v Joseph Zelnick>At the Bulletin they came uh oh it was in July or August before we went out of business in January of this year. ?inaudible? July or August, the bulletin went to its unions and asked them to take cuts to stay in business and of Bulletin unions and it was 8 or 9 unions, they voted to accept those cuts, and we stayed in business. If if calls had come to the Courier Express, people at uh employees and said, will you take some cuts or else we're gonna have to close. I'm just sure they would have taken the cuts. I mean, I can't imagine they wouldn't have. Eh I don't know why they did- they didn't- they never tried that. They just announced, you know, they did it really fast. <v Richard Roth>We're here for the long run, they said. We had always received that assurance. Uh a week or two weeks before uh the announcement was made, we had just ratified a new contract. During long negotiations, they never told us that the end was near. They didn't ask us to take zero wage increases, they offered us a raise. We took it uh and said, we're gonna do this. I suppose they should've offered more in retrospect, but there was no indication that this was coming uh right up to end.
<v Ray Herman>Obviously I had I would- would have hoped that they would've stayed here longer and and fought it out. But uh they they have a board of directors to answer to and the- and the numbers here were uh not encouraging when your paper loses 25 million dollars over something less than three years. That those are big numbers. And uh uh the people who sit on the board of directors have no particular ties to Buffalo they're- we're just uh bottom line figures to them. <v Roger Parkinson>For anybody to imply that they didn't give it the best shot, I think is uh unwarranted and not really understanding the situation well. I don't think very many people would have done what they have done. Uh if you're only looking at the bottom line and the hard numbers, they wouldn't have done what they wo- they had done. They were really trying to create a quality newspaper here in Buffalo. And who knows um things go change and might have been different, but they gave it a very, very strong effort. [machine whirring]
<v Murray Light>We were fortunate as a city to have still maintained two competitive newspapers through all these years. All we have to do is go back and look at our census figures and track our census figures and see the declining population. Then we came into the cataclysmic area last year of losing major, major retailers. Retailers that spent millions of dollars every year in newspaper advertising. Advertisers are the lifeblood of a newspaper. They provide between 70 to 75 percent of your total revenues. When you get that decline and then you get the declining number of people who are potential customers for your newspaper, there's ?weed?. That's the crux of the whole thing. <v John Cowles, Jr.>In the 1979 purchase from the Conners family, Kohl's media also acquired Career Cable, now called Cablescope. Cablescope's management and operations have been completely separate from those of the Courier Express since 1979 and will not be affected by the close down of the newspaper.
<v Jim Baker>I think that they now have uh primarily what they came in here to uh obtain. Cablescope. And you can see why stepping back from it and looking at the overall national picture, what's growing and what's not. Cable is the is the way of the future. Uh newspapers uh have not been that way and um eh it was a package deal. Three years later, they do not have the paper. Uh they do have a tax write off. And they also have Cablescope. <v Roger Parkinson>Bull feathers. Uh that's just there's just nothing to that. I have to tell you, uh I get a little riled up when I hear about it- we wouldn't have been bustin' our butts and putting this kind of money in here for three years if they just wanted to uh keep the cable. As a matter of fact, I went to the board when I finally got in and looked at the numbers and said, here's the plan, here's what we think we can do. Tell me now if you don't want to uh play. I mean uh, if you don't wanna play, let's pull the plug and either sell it or close it right now and not go down this path and hire all these people and do all these kinds of things and try and make a a good paper. Let's say it up front. And uh they said, no, we want to do it. And and quite frankly, what they really wanted to do was build a newspaper and the cable came along with it. It was very nice that there's cable. It's a i- i- i- it's a it's a very good cable system and it's a nice plus. But I have to tell you that what they really are interested in is newspapers.
<v Jim Baker>Roger Parkinson has uh told me that uh I I'm not correct when I say that uh um they wanted just Cablescope, and I'd like to believe that. But uh I just I just happen to believe that uh they they now have what in their long range view is uh what they really wanted. And ?inaudible? that's the cable. <v Man 1>What do you think of a one newspaper town now? <v Joseph Zelnick>Well, it's never good. It's never good. It's never good to have only one uh- <v Man 1>One view? <v Joseph Zelnick>One view and uh the people will suffer from having one newspaper. And so will the advertisers. The rates will go up. I can guarantee you that both of the news advertising rates'll go up in a very short time and uh no no one's better off with one newspaper. <v Murray Light>Certainly we have enormous additional costs. Um newsprint, as you know, is so expensive. People are so expensive. We're using up tremendous amount of additional newsprint and absorbing a lot of new people. Uh advertising rates are predicated upon the cost per thousand number of people who are seeing the ads. The advertisers taking, uh yes, advertising rates will be adjusted.
<v Man 1>What will this do to the uh political candidate looking for ?inaudible? ? <v Ray Herman>Well, I- he'll have one outlet uh as far as print journalism goes now, and that'll be the news and uh the news is in a would be a very commanding position because as I'm sure you know, ?Fran?, um frequently in politics uh each uh each paper has its own particular sources. And uh of course uh, the Courier sources now will have to go down the street to the Buffalo News. Uh so um th- the news, of course, is in the in the ?catbird? seat as far as uh that's concerned. But again, they've always been a responsible paper, and I'm sure they'll continue to be. <v Murray Light>Does a one paper city lose half its vision? Uh hopefully not. And I would say that we are going to bend every effort to make sure that does not happen. We went out and immediately purchased a lot of the syndicated columnist that the Courier was carrying. Jack Anderson, Evans and Nowark, Carl ?Rohan?, uh Bill Buckley. Uh and if you look at those, you'll see that some are liberal viewpoints, some are conservative viewpoints. Our own uh syndicated right is ?the? we had for years. Also, we try to strike that balance.
<v Narrator 1>Competition from television and radio, the growth of suburban newspapers, enormous operating costs, economic issues ultimately bring newspapers down, but other factors precede the red ink. The same factors that separate great papers from the mediocre. Thomas Vail is the publisher and editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest paper and winner in the survival battle with the Cleveland press. <v Thomas Vail>They became less aggressive in the pursuit of the basic stories of the community and less aggressive in promoting uh the fine issues and and candidates and whatever it is that a community has to have. Y- you have to aggressively participate in the uh in in the things of the community and try to make them happen. And I think that my- our competitor uh stopped doing that. We are a news medium more than ever because with the coming of television, we are less an entertainment [audio/ video cuts out] ?medium? and we are more a news medium than ever before. So to maintain a high position in the community, you have to have integrity. You have to have a superior local news staff. Without it, you're in trouble.
<v Narrator 1>If any area thrives on the media, it's Washington. Yet the Washington Star's daily press run of 325,000 papers was not enough to keep it afloat. The disappearance of the Star and afternoon paper briefly left the nation's capital with a single daily paper, The Washington Post. But unlike other markets, The Post quickly had new competition on the newsstands. <v Ben Bradlee>The Washington Post was a monopoly newspaper for 20 minutes. Then the Moonie paper started up and now USA Today has uh an addition here and th- they're selling copies here. So uh and and um the- there is a ring of suburban papers. The journal papers here went daily. So um I think if you if you put the journal papers going daily, plus USA Today plus the Moonie paper, you would probably get a circulation comparable to what the star had when it uh folded. The Star was a good newspaper. ?inaudible? [audio glitch] I don't know about. That's an exception. The Herald Tribune was a good newspaper. But uh let me let me put it this way. Most good newspapers with good active local management don't fail. There were four newspapers and the star had uh more than half the advertising and had much more than half the advertising revenue and had more circulation than anybody else. So uh and then The Washington Post was uh at one point was 4th.
<v Man 1>You blamin' it strictly on the economy? <v Ben Bradlee>No, I blame it on bad management. That ?no? particular one. Now the economy uh doesn't make it easy now and and inflation makes it awful tough. Uh newspapers don't make a hell of a lot of money. <v Narrator 1>In Philadelphia, nearly everybody reads the Bulletin. That was the model of what was once the largest evening paper in the country. When the bulletin went down, it still had a daily circulation of over 400,000. Not enough to survive against the Inquirer and The Daily News. Morning and afternoon papers owned by the Knight Ridder Chain. <v Sam McKeel>The Bulletin's revenue was approximately flat, about the same for six years, last six years of its existence. Uh you can't cut costs enough to compensate for that. If you can't generate more revenue, then you simply aren't gonna make it. And there is not enough revenue in cities of this size or almost any size to provide enough o- enough revenue to cover the overhead. There is nothing static in in the American economy, whether it is newspapers, automobiles, steel industry or anything else. And there will be tremendous developments in your industry in the next few years as you go into into a proliferation of sources of television uh uh availabilities through cable and through the low power stations and through the ?u? stations and the ?v? stations. There is going to be a a massive prolifer- proliferation. Um as this happens it is it is um uh 20 years from now, uh people might well wonder, well, uh what happened to all those television stations and uh are all of 'em going to be profitable, can all of 'em stay in business?
<v Man 1>What happens when a two paper town suddenly becomes a one paper town? <v Thomas Vail>This poses a tremendous burden on the survivor. If the other paper was more liberal or more conservative than you were, perhaps you feel they were filling a void. Today, you got to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to have their say so that nobody feels that you're smug, complacent, uh honourary uh you don't wanna have people feel that you're thrusting a point of view down their throat. I I think that would be a terrible mistake. <v Ben Bradlee>My worry about being a monopoly paper is that uh the owners and the editors will get so scared of being accused of uh of being uh dictatorial that they were bland out, that they will take no positive stand, and uh that uh for every editorial on one side, they'll have an editorial on the other side so that there will be uh there'll be a lot of heat on the page. But no, no light, no real light. And uh I hope that doesn't happen. But I can see that as the great danger.
<v Man 1>Being the only game in town, it uh it would seem feasible that you would raise your advertising rates or subscription price. <v Thomas Vail>Well, this is a question that has been much misunderstood. What The Plain Dealer did when the press went out of business, we actually uh have in a way we have lowered our rates. Our circulation went up 20 percent. We raised our rates only 18 percent. So on a cost per thousand or the cost for the advertiser to deliver their message to X number of people. It's cheaper for them now than it was before. So what we call a ?middle? line rate, you can call it a cost per thousand. We have raised the rates less than the increase in our circulation. <v Narrator 1>What must newspapers do today to survive? <v Sam McKeel>Well, in the in the uh in the big cities, some of the newspapers that um uh have died in recent years um I think couldn't have been saved. Uh there will probably be more and more um fatalities in the future. There are some papers in in some big cities that are in very much trouble right now. And it's very doubtful that they can be saved. Uh society has changed its habits. Um it's not a stay at home in the evening society much anymore. Uh those are the things that have made the big difference. Television is a major part of that. Television does something that we can't do, and that is it can give you instant coverage and give you sight, sound, color. All of the things that do nothing but whet the appetite of readers. When there's a big news break that you people cover instantly, our sales go up the next day.
<v Thomas Vail>It would be nice to think that any major city could afford two excellent newspapers. But I don't think it does any good to have one strong newspaper and one weak one because the weak one becomes more irresponsible. They have more and more problems financially. They cut the staff. It's very expensive to do a fine quality job. And I think that there is, I'll go a little farther, I don't think there's any city in the world that can afford two first class newspapers. <v Ben Bradlee>I can't help but believe that uh that uh television can't do it. You you- you can't Xerox television. You can't uh you you run an experiment some day and take the 7 o'clock news and then ask uh listen to it and then ask some of your less uh uh professionally uh newspaper oriented friends uh [clears throat] you know what I'd rather say? What country was he talking about in in Latin America? The average uh uh news item on the CBS Evening News will be 150 words. That's two graphs [clears throat] and uh graphics fade. A newspaper you can pick up and look at and say, I don't understand it, I'm going to try it again. You've gotta be useful. It's a great competition for uh for the time of a reader. And if you're not useful, if you're not fulfilling a need, uh people will say, what the hell, I'll quit that and do something that uh does is useful to me.
Channel 17 Reports
A Final Edition: The Death of a Newspaper
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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"This documentary chronicles the demise [of] daily newspapers in four major U.S. cities, as well as outline what must be [done] for newspapers to survive in today's times. We explore the reasons for the [death] of newspapers in Buffalo, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. and we talk to the editors and publishers of the surviving newspapers in those cities. Competition from TV and radio, cable, the growth of suburban newspapers, [enormous] operating costs and economic issues ultimately bring newspapers down. Poor [management] is also cited. We also find other factors that precede the red ink, [the] same factors that separate great papers from the mediocre. We look beyond the reasons for the death of a daily to the larger question[...] newspaper survival in [the] electronic age. And we learn that despite dire economic conditions and competition from the broadcast media, the editors and publishers interviewed were optimistic about the future of their profession. They figure they will survive cable and television news."--1982 Peabody Awards entry form.
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Chicago: “Channel 17 Reports; A Final Edition: The Death of a Newspaper,” 1982-12-17, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 26, 2022,
MLA: “Channel 17 Reports; A Final Edition: The Death of a Newspaper.” 1982-12-17. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 26, 2022. <>.
APA: Channel 17 Reports; A Final Edition: The Death of a Newspaper. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from