Media pros discuss ownership

Whether corporate news organizations enrich the public through effective journalism or their own and investors’ coffers was the topic of a Northern Kentucky University meeting Nov. 14.

Over 100 students and faculty members showed up for “Wall Street versus Main Street,” a free public forum last Thursday hosted by J. Patrick Moynahan, Interim Dean of the College of Professional Studies.

The topic of discussion was centered on the theory that corporate news organizations either enrich the public by funding quality reporting, or their bank accounts by focusing instead on enriching themselves, their investors and their advertisers.

Rich Boehne, executive vice president of E. W. Scripps, John Fox, editor and co-publisher of CityBeat, Susan McHugh, editorial director for the Recorder Newspapers and Elbert Tucker, news director at WKRC-TV, were the forum panelists.

Each panelist handled the issue differently, and the final result seemed to be a variety of opinions from the media officials and what the audience felt was the right answer.

CityBeat, an 8-year-old weekly publication, remains an alternative newspaper that, according to Fox, is ‘just people speaking to their peers’.

“Before CityBeat, I had never worked in mainstream media,” Fox said. “CityBeat tries to report on things no one else will cover, such as local musicians instead of shows at Riverbend, or local students’ art exhibits instead of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s latest exhibit.

“About 75 percent of our readers range from 18-45 year olds, but with a staff of 35 and as a weekly paper, we can’t compete with the Enquirer or the Post on news coverage, so we don’t even try. We have three owners, which are myself, a co-publisher, and an investor to fund it.”

McHugh said the Recorder papers are funded by one individual in Michigan. He said that helps keep any perceived bias out of what readers see.

“We try to keep advertising out of it, because we don’t want any advertiser to be able to have a say in what we put in our papers,” McHugh said. “We don’t want any company to have the power to oversee our paper’s content or our operations.”

On the flip side, WKRC-TV (owned by Clear Channel) and E. W. Scripps are funded by corporate organizations.

“We are measured in ratings, and if our ratings go down, the money goes down, and I have to look for another job,” Tucker said. “So there is a lot of pressure, a lot that goes into it.”

Boehne said Scripps Howard owns 21 newspapers, nine TV stations, the Scripps’ Howard News Service, which provides 300-400 papers nationwide various TV and cable networks and gardening and interior design shows. He said an economic downturn does affect the news.

“If the news is going to be delivered, we must pay for the endorsements,” Boehne said.

Some questions involved readers’ trust of media outlets if they are overseen by corporate organizations. Some wondered whether an organization funding a news medium can avoid persuading them as readers to think a particular way.