6A — Editorial Page — Saturday, July 27, 1974
An Independent Newspaper
NOT COGS IN A MACHINE
Editor of Each Gannett Newspaper
Must Use His Own Best Judgment
By PAUL MILLER
The projected merger of Knight Newspapers (16 newspapers in seven states) and
Ridder Publications (19 newspapers in 10
states) dramatizes a major trend.
More and more newspapers are combining into regional or more widely-spread
confederations. More and more of these
are going public through sale of stock.
And, as in the case of Knight and Ridder,
there is the further movement of mergers
into still larger groups.
Newspaper chains or groups aren't
new. There have been many for generations. Usually, as Knight and Ridder, they
were built or dominated by individual or
What's markedly different today, taking American newspapers, as a whole, is
the plunge into what many regarded and
some do still as the perils of public ownership.
Many owners felt that a newspaper
or a newspaper group had to be independent of all possible outside influences,
including stockholders, to do the independent news and editorial job a good
newspaper must do.
The newspaper you arc reading is n
member of the Gannett Group, founded
by Frank Gannett and associates and
public since 1967.
At Gannett, as doubtless at the nearly
a score other U.S. public newspaper companies, such apprehensions proved groundless.
Moreover, public ownership health
fully-mandates good business principles
and practices, and a public accountability
seldom approached by even the best of
the many fine closelyheld firms.
. . . Local Autonomy
Do newspapers joining today's groups
become cogs in a machine, reflecting a
sameness of appearance and opinion as
was asserted by critics more often now
than some decades ago?
On the contrary.
In most groups now, as traditionally
at Gannett, each member newspaper exercises complete local autonomy for its
news and editorials, with strenghtening
advantages from being part of a group
including a greater variety of services and
resources. There is no central editorial
The editor of one Gannett newspaper
has been one of President Nixon's strongest editorial defenders throughout Watergate. The editor of another Gannett newspaper was among the first anywhere in the
United States to call for resignation or
Gannett newspapers have their own
special news service, a round-the-clock
wire, serving the 54 Gannett member
newspapers from Burlington, Vt, to Honolulu.
But every item on that wire is for the
local editors to do with as they please—
use as is, cut or discard.
. . . Order Given
The relationship between individual
editors and the Rochester corporate headquarters was explained by one Gannett
editor, John II. McMillan of the Huntington (W. Va.) newspapers, in what
amounted to a letter to readers only the
Let nic pass it along in full—it's interesting, if you've been interested enough
to read this far.
By John H. McMillan
It's no secret that The Huntington Advertiser and The Herald-Dispatch are
owned by Gannett Co. Inc. Gannett is a
publicly owned company, based in Rochester, N.Y., milk its shares traded on the
New York Stock Exchange,
A good many readers assume, therefore, that someone in RocJtcstcr calls the
shots on what we print here in the Tri-
Not so. The news and editorial content
of the Huntington newspapers is determined by editors in Huntington.
The decision last week on tohcther or
not to use President Nixon's profanity and
vulgarity offers a case in point. Did we
have orders from Rochester on liow to proceed when the House Judiciary Committee
made public its version of the White House
tapes, complete with all the expletives?
And what were the orders?
Here's the message sent to editors and
publishers of Gannet's 54 newspapers by
John C. Quinn vice president for news:
"Today's House Judiciary transcripts
put the burden of local autonomy squarely
on the local leadership of Gannett Group
newspapers. Each must decide for itself
where to draw a proper and up-to-date
editing line between accurately informing
the readers of the latest White House conversational style and simply overwhelming
them with undeleted abuse.
"This is not, repeat not, to suggest a
group-wide editing decision. On the con-
trary, it is intended to insure that a local
editing decision is made by those who
carry the responsibility of local
Quinn's orders, in short, were that
local editors should pay attention to their
jobs and decide whether or not to use what
small children hereabouts seem to call
Note: Gannett newspapers were all
over the lot—depending on the judgment
of local managements—in their use, non-
use or partial use of the particularly
earthy expletives attributed to the President.
(The Huntington Newspapers substituted blank spaces for an expletive. The
Times-Union used one letter and dots.)
In a summary of Gannett newspaper
usage, Gannett Vice President Quinn
"Over-all, the prevailing trend (among
Gannett editors) appears to be that in the
initial news reports such historic quotes
should be printed in full, although some
newspapers still find good reason for a
more conservative policy. Amen."
Concluding, it should be emphasized
that this piece was written—like that by
Editor McMillan at Huntington—because
we all believe that readers are entitled to
fullest information about the operations
of their daily papers.
All at Gannett try to provide the Information through meetings with official
and unofficial groups, through editorials
and promotional materials—and an occasional column Like this. Thank you.
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