One of the more heartwarming tales out of this year’s Pulitzer Prize announcements was the win by the tiny Storm Lake Times newspaper in Iowa for editorial writing.
The hard-earned accolade seemed proof that, even in these trying times for newspapers, a plucky family-run outfit can still be capable of big things. In the case of the Storm Lake Times, editor Art Cullen was recognized for standing resolutely against powerful agriculture businesses on environment issues, deep in the heart of Iowa’s Farm Belt.
The win by the 3,000-circulation publication also put a spotlight on the fact that papers whose mastheads are dominated by a single family name are becoming fewer and farther between.
According to data compiled by newspaper merger-and-acquisition adviser Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, five of the six newspaper sales in the first quarter of this year involved a family selling a paper to a larger media group, such as in March when the Frederick News-Post in Maryland was sold to Ogden Newspapers and the Willimantic Chronicle was acquired by Central Connecticut Communications.
It is part of a continuing trend of industry consolidation that has left just 15% of America’s daily newspaper circulation under independent control, where a publisher operates only a single newspaper, the firm says. In the year 1900, that figure stood at 90%, and in 1975, it was 59%.
One interesting point is that in the 1920s there were 500 U.S. cities with two or more competing newspapers compared with just 10 cities today, according to DV&M.
At the same time, industry consolidation hasn’t resulted in massive concentration of America’s newspapers in just a few hands, unlike other parts of the media industry.
As it stands, there are now 108 groups that own two or more newspapers in the U.S. and 199 single-title owners. The top 10 largest newspaper…