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Gannett Group

Overview

This profile considers the Gannett newspaper group, which operates in the US and UK.


It covers -

  • introduction
  • the group
  • holdings
  • studies

The group

US media group Gannett is the largest North American newspaper publisher in terms of circulation. Its holdings include broadcast and multimedia interests, along with newspapers in the UK, where it has continued to expand through acquisition of titles from SMG and INM.

Revenues in 2000 were US$6.2 billion. Gannett papers have a combined daily circulation of approximately 7.2 million in the US and 600,000 in the UK. The group's 22 television stations reach approximately 17.7% of the US market. It has a presence in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Hong Kong. It publishes 100 daily newspapers in the US (including USA Today) and over 300 titles in the United Kingdom.

The group boasts that it publishes more than 500 non-daily publications around the world, employing 53,400 people. Gannett is often derided, with much justice, as publishing 'Mcpapers' - upbeat, using colour as MSG, superficial, conservative and resolutely provincial.

The group

Gannett traces its origins to the turn of last century, when Frank Gannett (1876-1957) bought a half interest in the Elmira (New York) Gazette. By 1923 Gannett consisted of six newspapers located in the eastern US; it expanded into mid-west and western newspapers and radion stations during the thirties. By 1947 it operated 21 newspapers, seven radio stations and its own news service.

The founder gained attention for his crusade against the Roosevelt administration and for his attempts to quash criticism of far-right organisations. (Freedom of the press, it seems, was to be restricted to those who owned one.)

During the sixties and seventies, under the direction of Paul Miller and Allen Neuharth, Gannett bought newspapers, television and radio stations across the US and founded the national USA Today (current circulation is daily circulation is approximately 2.3 million).

By 1970 it comprised 33 dailies, 12 weeklies, six radio stations and two television stations. During the seventies it absorbed several rival chains: by 1979 it owned 78 daily newspapers in 33 states and Guam, a national news service, seven television and 14 radio stations, outdoor advertising plants in the United States and Canada, 21 weekly newspapers and Louis Harris & Associates research.

In 1995 it bought Multimedia: 10 daily newspapers, five television stations, two radio stations and cable television systems. In the following year it sold Louis Harris & Associates and then disposed of its radio stations. In 1999 its UK subsidiary bought Newsquest, one of the largest regional newspaper publishers with over 180 titles.

In the following year it acquired Newscom (the eighth largest regional newspaper publisher in the United Kingdom with 99 publications including four dailies), 19 daily US newspapers from Thomson, and south-western Central Newspapers. In 2002 it bought the Herald newspapers (including the Glasgow Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times) from SMG for £216 million. In 2003 it paid £60 million for 45 Greater London titles (29 paid-for and 16 free weeklies) of O'Reilly-controlled INM.

In April 2006, as part of disassembly of Knight Ridder, McClatchy announced that it would sell The San Jose Mercury News and The Contra Costa Times to a partnership of MediaNews, Gannett and Arkansas-based Stephens Group. MediaNews would control 54% and run the two titles, with Gannett holding a 19% interest and Stephens a 26% interest.

A chronology of the Gannett group is here.

Holdings

The following page provides an indication of Gannett holdings.

Studies

There have been no major studies of the group. Confessions of an S.O.B (New York: Doubleday 1989) by former executive Al Neuharth is a quirky confection that offers insights into the organisation's values. Thomas Frank characterises it as a "diary of corporate megalomania."

Neuharth boasts that

When Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee snipped: "If USA Today is a good newspaper, then I'm in the wrong business,'' I told our editors at the next news conference, "Bradlee and I finally agree on something. He is in the wrong business."

Donald Brandt's History of Gannett 1906-1993 (Gannett 1993) is the authorised corporate history.

Richard McCord's The Chain Gang: One Newspaper versus the Gannett Empire (Columbia: Uni of Missouri Press 1996) severely criticised Gannett's business and journalistic practice. There is a more indulgent account in Peter Prichard's The Making of McPaper: The Inside Story of USA Today (Kansas: Andrew McMeel & Parker 1987); the author is a former Gannett executive.

Broader academic studies include Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapering (Fayetteville: Uni of Arkansas Press 2001) edited by Gene Roberts, Thomas Kunkel & Charles Layton and The Menace of the Corporate Newspaper: Fact or Fiction? (Ames: Iowa State Uni Press 1996) by David Demers. A perspective is provided by Dane Claussen's 1999 paper The Myths and Realities of Newspaper Acquisition Costs: Fiduciary Responsibilities, Fungibility of Assets, Winners' Penalties & Excess Cash "Problems".

For the Des Moines Register see Covering Iowa: The History of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company, 1849-1985 (Ames: Iowa State Uni Press 2001) by William Friedricks.