How Corporate Ownership Facilitated a Split in the Scripps Newspaper Empire

By Adams, Ed | Journalism History, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

How Corporate Ownership Facilitated a Split in the Scripps Newspaper Empire


Adams, Ed, Journalism History


E.W. Scripps was among the early adopters of corporate ownership for newspapers. it helped him to develop a chain and provide incentives to editors and business managers at the individual newspapers by distributing stock shares among close associates and those who were involved in the start-up of papers. In most cases, Scripps held a majority of the stock, but at some papers the majority of stock was split betwwn Scripps an close family members. This financial structure helped to create the first corporate split in a U.S. newspaper company. James Scripps, the eldest son of E. W. Scripps, took his minority shares in several west coast newspaper and joined with other minority shareholders to create a majority of stock, forming their own newspaper company. This article examines the corporate structure created by E. W. Scripps, the envent that led to the split, and the subsequent consolidation of the remaining Scripps paper

In 1922, E.W. Scripps consolidated his newspaper holdings into an umbrella corporation called Scripps Howard. This move came after his son and daughter-in-law, Jim and Josephine Scripps, took seven of the Scripps papers located on the West Coast and formed a new chain, which eventually became the Scripps League of Newspapers. The separation of the west coast papers came at a time when the "Scripps Concern" was rivaled only in the United States by the Hearst Newspaper Corporation in total newspaper circulation.1

E.W. Scripps created a corporate structure that organized and assigned each newspaper into a holding company. By the early 1920s, he had ownership in papers that fell under the Scripps McRae League, the Scripps Pacific Coast Penny Papers, the Harper Group of Scripps, and Scripps-Kellogg (also known as Clover Leaf). He had a varying percentage of ownership in each paper. In some cases he held a majority of the stock, and in others a minority, and sometimes he simply held a note for money lent to friends or relatives who started papers.

This article examines the corporate organization of the Scripps newspapers from 1917 to 1922 and how the shareholder structure helped to facilitate a hostile takeover by his son. It also looks at the events that led to the split and attempts by Scripps to reconcile with his son and daughter-in-law and reconsolidate the break-away papers back into Scripps Howard. This is a subject that has largely been unexamined by historians. A number of studies have addressed the issue of media ownership, but a majority of them have simply chronicled the establishment and maintenance of chains.2

Books on E.W. Scripps are abundant, but most focus on his personality. The biographies contain few details on the separate corporate entities that he created or the corporate split, only that it occurred.3 An example is Vance Trimble's 1992 biography, The Astonishing Mr. Scripps: The Turbulent Life of America's Penny Press Lord. It includes information about the chain, but it deals with it only from the perspective of correspondence that Scripps sent to others. Trimble views the corporate split as merely a family squabble, and the participation of management is not considered.4

A 1993 book,Jack Casserly's Scripps, Teh Divided Dynasty: A History of the First Family of American Journalism, reviews little of the circumstances surroundingthe split other than that it occurred.5 Gerald Baldasty's 1999 book, E. W Scripps and the Business ofNewspapers, is one of the best sources on the business and economic history of newspapers and on Scripps' business decisions. While the book provides additional insight into him and his business operations, it does not address the split in the company.6 A 1999 dissertation by Dale Zacher reviews the chain's World War I editorial policies and the change in management during the months before the separation within the organization. He reviews some of the feelings of editorial officers during this time.7

This article utilized the E. …

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