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Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970
The Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 was an Act of the United States Congress, signed by President Richard Nixon, authorizing the formation of joint operating agreements among competing newspaper operations within the same market area. It exempted newspapers from certain provisions of antitrust laws. Its drafters argued that this would allow the survival of multiple daily newspapers in a given urban market where circulation was declining. This exemption stemmed from the observation that the alternative is usually for at least one of the newspapers, generally the one published in the evening, to cease operations altogether.
In practice two daily newspapers published in the same city or geographic area combine business operations while maintaining separate—and competitive—news operations.
The first joint operating agreement was between Albuquerque Tribune (then the New Mexico State Tribune) and the Albuquerque Journal in Albuquerque, New Mexico, signed on February 20, 1933. Their agreement became typical of the type—both papers were printed on the same presses at different times of day. Classified advertising sales were consolidated, as were distribution agents. A joint entity to perform these functions was created, with equal representation on its board from both papers. Newsgathering and editorial operations remained completely separate, although located under one roof in different portions of the same building.
Arrangements similar to this allowed most medium-sized United States cities to have two daily newspapers until fairly recently. The number of joint operating agreements, as well as the number of evening-published daily newspapers, has declined considerably in recent years, due to the ongoing consolidation of the newspaper industry as a whole, and the decline in readership and interest in evening newspapers in particular, which many observers have attributed to television and the internet, of which the former seems to be magnified by the presence of several 24-hour-a-day news operations on cable television. There have been 28 Joint Operating Agreements to date. The Chattanooga Times and the Chattanooga News-Free Press's joint operating agreement became the first to be terminated on August 27, 1966.
The Newspaper Preservation Act was touted as a relief measure to allow multiple newspapers competing in the same market to cut costs, thus ensuring that no one paper could have supremacy in the market by driving the other(s) out of business. However, mounting evidence suggests the passage of the Act was less about protecting editorial diversity within community newspaper markets than about inflating the profit margins of national newspaper chains. By quietly and informally taking on some behaviors of a cartel, large newspaper chains were able to sustain artificially high profits while driving independent newspapers out of business (or forcing them to sell their stake to a chain). Note that many of the papers listed in the sections below have the same few ownership groups. In fact, President Richard M. Nixon initially opposed the passage of the act (as had his predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson) as being antithetical to the essential practices and character of free marketcapitalism.
He reversed himself upon receiving a letter from Richard E. Berlin, CEO of the Hearst chain of newspapers and magazines. In the 1969 letter, Berlin intimated that failure of the law to pass would carry political consequences and hinted that support from Nixon would conversely help the President and his allies. The Nixon Administration supported the Act's passage, and in the 1972 Presidential Campaign, every Hearst newspaper endorsed Nixon for reelection.