The growing monopoly

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Cox Gobbles Up Publications

Rob Patterson’s story published August 5 provides an excellent overview of the community news publications operating in Travis, Williamson and Bastrop counties. Patterson does a thorough job of getting at not only the financial competition but the quality of journalism being practiced.

The bottom line is all the newspapers covered seem to be doing the best they can with the resources they’ve got. Of course, the resources are generally never enough. Most, if not all, of the publications Patterson covered are operated with a bare-bones staff.

But, as Will Hampton, communications director for the City of Round Rock, and a former editor of the Round Rock Leader says, “The quality of the coverage is more dependent on the reporter than who they work for….” Whenever a good reporter comes along at any publication—someone with fire in the belly and the moxie to make sense of what they’re covering—the readers will be well served.

While nine community newspapers in this area are owned by Cox Enterprises, which also owns the Austin American-Statesman, the initial concerns over interference have abated, as the Statesman has generally left these papers to go their own way editorially.

Not only newspapers have been purchased by the local daily. The Statesman Co. has also purchased In Fact Daily, the newsletter I launched in July 1995 to cover city hall and local politics. I sold the newsletter to Jo Clifton in July 2000.

Clifton’s article announcing the sale on March 29 said, “While the Statesman Co. will take over duties of managing the business, I will continue to direct the stable of writers that have provided subscribers with nonpartisan, factual, accurate, comprehensive and targeted news for almost 10 years now. I will operate the business independently of the Austin American-Statesman and statesman.com.”

I have continued to read In Fact Daily since the sale and I can confirm that Clifton has been true to her word. The focus and content have remained unchanged.

All the publications acquired in this area have continued in basically the same vein they did before. In some of the newspapers there have been staff reductions, and that has in some cases taken a toll on coverage.

But all indications are that these publications are getting strong support on the business side and laissez-faire management on the editorial side. And that seems to offer the best of both worlds, so that these publications can weather the current economic downturn and continue to serve their respective readers and communities.

 

Ken Martin