Rival Hartford newspaper objects to Tribune multimedia cluster


Tribune has a double waiver going in the Hartford CT DMA comprised of the city’s iconic newspaper The Hartford Courant and its local Fox affiliate WTIC. That’s one waiver. It also has a second waiver in place to own CW WTXX-TV. The Manchester Journal Inquirer says the cluster is in violation of the rules and should be busted up.

MJI’s Neil Ellis filed with the FCC, saying that the cluster is in violation of cross-ownership rules. Ellis says that the Hartford combination doesn’t meet the FCC’s proposed requirements for a cross-owned combination, particularly since Hartford is not a top-20 DMA, and because neither WTIC nor the Courant are demonstrated to be failing.

Since the combination goes against even the outlines of the FCC’s proposed rule change for cross-owned combinations, Ellis argues that the burden is on Tribune to prove why combining the properties warrants over-riding the FCC’s own presumptions, something he claims Tribune fails to do.

Ellis is contending that the combination reduces diversity of journalistic viewpoint, and it hurts him both as a consumer of news and as a competitor.

Ellis said the purpose of the combination was not journalistic, but instead has revenue generation in mind. The petition argues”…that rather than using its ownership of multiple media outlets to improve local coverage, Tribune instead utilizes the Television stations to bolster advertising revenues by offering advertisers discounted rates for purchasing ads with both the television stations and the newspaper. … This behavior not only improperly takes advantage of Tribune’s cross-ownership, but it severely harms the ability of other media entities, like the Manchester Journal Inquirer from competing for those advertisers as a stand-alone entity.”

He goes on to conclude, “Surely such behavior by Tribune is not in the public interest.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Nobody denies that cross-owned newspaper/broadcast combinations tend to be the best news operation in their market. The problem, according to some watchdogs, is that they are so good that they force other media competitors to minimize or abandon journalism, since they cannot compete on equal footing, and in that way, they tend to reduce diversity of perspective.

Many broadcasters are arguing that ownership caps are being made irrelevant by the internet, but the underbelly of that argument is that broadcasters who are not able to capitalize on consolidation opportunities may become even more marginalized and irrelevant.