Scripps Howard's Implementation of Joint Agreements for Newspaper Preservation, 1933-1939

Article excerpt

During the Depression of the 1930s, newspapers faced a new challenge with declining revenues because of diminished advertising. Several papers closed, some were sold, and others merged with competitors. The same strategies held true for Scripps Howard, the second largest newspaper chain in number of newspaper properties owned. The chain closed one newspaper and sold five other properties. But the Scripps Howard executives went further in their strategic planning by implementing joint operating plans.1

Agreements for joint operation during the 1930s were arranged in Albuquerque (1933), in El Paso (1936), Nashville (1937), and Evansville, 11. (1938). Other efforts to form joint agreements in San Diego and Knoxville during this period were unsuccessful. In all cases these early agreements and proposed arrangements involved current or former Scripps Howard executives. In all instances, Scripps Howardowned papers were in a subordinate market position in circulation with competitors.

By 1933, the Scripps Howard chain had only two of its twenty-four papers in a dominant position in markets.2 Roy Howard, general manager of Scripps Howard, had realized as early as 1922 that all of the company newspapers were losing ground to competitors in circulation. However, implementation of any plan that might change that situation was slow since many of the chain's papers were nevertheless profitable during the prosperous 1920s. But by the onset of the Depression, faced with the potential loss of revenue, Scripps Howard executives had begun working diligently on a plan to preserve their newspaper properties. The plan would involve combining with competitors to form joint agreements, and the Scripps Howard executives would continue to be interested in establishing these agreements.3

Most histories about media in the 1930s focuse on the print press relationship with radio and press coverage of the Depression; little historical research has looked at media concentration or economic performance during the decade. This article examines the development and negotiation process of the early agreements Scripps Howard made with competitors, in order to assess the historical incentive and motivations for forming the agreements and to gain a greater understanding of Scripps Howard's operations.4

Newspaper failure during the Depression was not just a concern but reality. Between 1928 and 1933, the number of weeklies in the U.S. declined by almost 1,000, and daily newspapers decreased by fifty.5 The Scripps Howard chain completed three joint operating agreements and attempted two more in an attempt to protect its properties from the impact of the Depression.6

As economic tribulations swept the nation, newspaper circulation plummeted. The loss affected revenue from both circulation and advertising. Fewer readers meant that merchants paid less for advertising space. Between October 1931 and October 1932, for example, Scripps Howard newspapers in Albuquerque, El Paso, and Evansville, where agreements would eventually be formed, were heavy losers of advertising revenue to competitors. In Albuquerque the Scripps Howard-owned Tribune experienced a loss of 26.6 percent in advertising revenue, compared to a 15.3 percent loss by the competing Albuquerque Journal; in El Paso the Scripps Howard-owned Herald Post lost 37.5 percent, compared to a loss of 6.9 percent by the competing El Paso Times; and in Evansville, the Scripps Howard-owned Press posted a loss of 38.2 percent while the competing Evansville Courier lost 29.8 percent and the Evansville Journal lost 35.5 percent. Thus, in all of these markets, Scripps Howard papers were losing advertising at a greater rate than competitors.7

The economic conditions of the Depression were not the only cause for advertising loss. The new mass medium, radio, also affected the economics of newspaper publishing. From 1929 to 1939, newspaper advertising revenue fell 45 percent, while radio advertising revenue doubled. …