Magazine article Editor & Publisher

FCC Plan Disappoints A 'Poster Boy' for Cross-Ownership

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

FCC Plan Disappoints A 'Poster Boy' for Cross-Ownership

Article excerpt

As soon as I read the details of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin J. Martin's proposal this week to permit dailies to own a broadcast station -- only in America's biggest cities -- I thought of "Skip" Bliss up the road a couple of hours from me in Janesville, Wisconsin. I knew he couldn't be happy.

"It's a little discouraging," Bliss said when we talked Wednesday afternoon. He grabbed yesterday's New York Times and started reading from Martin's op-ed column about the importance of "saving" the newspaper industry. "If we don't act to improve the health of the newspaper industry, we will see newspapers wither and die," Martin wrote. "Without newspapers, we would be less informed about our communities and have fewer outlets for the expression of independent thinking and a diversity of viewpoints."

On the other end of the phone, Sidney H. "Skip" Bliss sighed: "To say that, and then to backtrack and say, well, there's only 20 newspapers that would see this relief when he seems to be talking about the whole newspaper business, well, it's really hard to understand."

Martin's plan would permit cross-ownership only by dailies in the 20 largest Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMAs). Janesville doesn't even have its own DMA. When it's piggybacked on Madison, they rank 85th in the nation.

There's no room for "Skip" Bliss, or other publishers of small- and mid-sized papers in Chairman Martin's proposed reform.

Bliss describes himself, accurately, as a poster boy for cross-ownership. For decades, Bliss' 21,000-circulation Janesville Gazette has operated not one, but two, of the town's radio stations. His father put the first Janesville radio station on the air -- at the urging, Bliss noted, of the federal government. The Gazette's same-market ownership of radio was grandfathered when the cross-ownership ban was imposed in 1975.

"Media democracy" activists argue that permitting this kind of common ownership diminishes the amount of local news and homogenizes the stations.

They should go to Janesville someday.

"We've got such a long-standing history of investing in the newsrooms of both the radio station and the newspaper," he said. In print that sounds like bragging, which I'm pretty sure the low-key Skip Bliss is incapable of. It's simply a matter of fact. …

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