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American Journalism Review
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   June 2000

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em   

MediaNews Group's Denver Post agrees to a joint operating agreement with E.W. Scripps Co.'s Rocky Mountain News.

By AJR Staff
     



The battle for dollars is no more in Denver, and a winner in the city's great newspaper war is sort of declared. MediaNews Group's Denver Post says yes to a joint operating agreement with E.W. Scripps Co.'s Rocky Mountain News, collecting $60 million in the deal. It is the News that cries financial hardship--posting losses of $123 million in 10 years--in what was billed as the last big-city newspaper brawl; the News' daily circulation is 446,465, and the Post's is 413,730, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations numbers. The JOA, which needs U.S. Justice Department approval, will combine the business operations of the papers into a new company, the Denver Newspaper Agency, with profits being split between the News and the Post 50-50. The papers will maintain separate editorial staffs and separate Monday through Friday editions. A combined paper will grace doorsteps on the weekends, with the News heading up the Saturday edition and the Post directing the coveted Sunday paper. The announcement comes as a shock to the people of Denver, says Linda Cobb-Reiley , who teaches journalism at the University of Denver. "Everyone knew that it was a heated battle and that the Post was winning," she says. "But I don't think that anyone thought it was close to over." Over the decades, the Post and the News--founded in 1892 and 1859, respectively--have gone back and forth, neck and neck, as to whose circulation, advertising or profit was the greater. The JOA will change the battlefield, says News Editor John Temple . "I believe there still will be competition in Denver," he says. "But there won't be a war. It will be different." For William Dean Singleton , vice chairman, president and CEO of MediaNews, a deal seemed inevitable. "In my own mind, I always knew there would be some kind of accommodation between the two newspapers," he was quoted as saying in the News. "Neither newspaper was going to go out of town with their tail between their legs." Temple and News staffers, however, were surprised at the outcome. "It's understandable that clearly this is a business decision," Temple says. And it "doesn't reflect the desires of the newsroom." Cobb-Reiley, who teaches communication law, expresses concern that the track record for JOAs has been less than perfect. In the last 15 years, 11 JOAs have ended with the death of a newspaper, and agreements in San Francisco and Honolulu are on shaky ground. "In the long run, this could mean we'd end up a one-paper town," says Cobb-Reiley, who adds that, of course, Denver could've ended up that way without the deal.

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