Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Columbia University's Historic Gannett Media Conglomerate Connection

For many years, 10 percent of the Gannet Company media conglomerate’s stock, worth about $547 million in 1989, was, historically, controlled by the Gannett Foundation [n/k/a Freedom Forum]. In the late 1980s, the former chairman of Gannett and founder of USA Today, Al Neuharth, was also the chairman of the board of trustees of the “nonprofit” Gannett Foundation [n/k/a Freedom Forum], which spent $33 million per year of its Gannett Company dividends in the early 1990s on grants to such “needy” recipients as Columbia University. In exchange for its grant from Neuharth’s Gannett Foundation, Columbia set up “the Gannet Center for Media Study” in its School of Journalism building to study the same mass communications industry that the Gannett Company and Neuharth historically attempted to dominate. A former president of the Public Broadcasting Service [PBS], Lawrence Grossman was a Senior Fellow at the Gannett Foundation-funded Gannett Center for Media Study in the early 1990s [a few years before Columbia University eventually severed its historic ties to the Gannett Foundation/n/k/a Freedom Forum in 1996).

But according to the associate director of the then-Columbia University-affiliated Gannett Center for Media Study in 1991, Shirley Gazsi, the center then had “no relation” to the Gannett Company and “the Gannett Foundation has no relation to the Gannett Company.”

“We are an operating academic institution,” Gazsi told Downtown in 1991.

Asked by Downtown in early 1991 if she could estimate how much funding the Gannett Foundation then granted to Columbia’s plushily-furnished Center for Media Study, its then-associate director stated that the Gannett Foundation then granted the center $3 million per year and indicated that the Gannett Foundation had by 1991 already made $30 million worth of grants to Columbia’s Center for Media Study over a 10-year period.

According to Gazsi, The Gannett Foundation was set up with Frank Gannett’s ‘private assets,” and “sponsors conferences, grants fellowships and promotes journalism education.” The Gannett Foundation also “makes local community grants,” according to Gazsi, in some cities in which Gannett newspapers operate.

The Gannet Center for Media Study associate director told Downtown in 1991 that neither the Gannett Foundation nor the Gannett Company exercised any control or influence over center activity. But she did indicate in 1991 that “We do get calls from Gannett newspapers and TV stations to respond to certain journalism issues.”

Asked by Downtown in 1991 whether newspaper chains like the Gannett chain are studied by her center, Gazsi replied: “We usually don’t study media chains.”

Asked by Downtown in 1991 if she could recall any Center for Media Study which studied Gannett’s activities, Gazsi replied in the negative. But she assured Downtown that the center would not be reluctant to study Gannett because “in actuality, we are nonpartisan.”

The Gannett Foundation also spent its Gannett Company dividends in the early 1990s on purchasing books. After the then-chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Gannett Foundation, Al Neuharth, had his book, Confessions Of An S.O.B., published, the nonprofit Gannett Foundation told The New York Times on Sept. 7, 1990 that foundation money was used to “buy some 2,000 copies” of Neuharth’s autobiography, but it denied charges that it had “tried to influence best-seller lists” with its foundation money.

(Downtown 5/8/91)

Next: Columbia University’s Pulitzer Prize Board/Washington Post Connections

No comments: