(The following article first appeared in the 9/9/92 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative weekly newspaper, Downtown.)
Although magazines like Cosmopolitan have been its most consistent source of profits, the Hearst media conglomerate’s source of special political influence for much of the 20th-century, historically, was its less lucrative chain of newspapers. As Louis Rukeyser’s Business Almanac noted:
“[William Randolph] Hearst [I] was one of the first publishers to understand the importance of creating a media conglomerate…By 1935 he had 90 newspapers, as well as such magazines as Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar.”
Between 1935 and 1979, however, the Hearst Corporation reduced the size of its chain of newspapers because many of its daily newspapers—while politically influential—had become heavy money-losers. At the time of William Randolph Hearst I’s death in 1951, though, the Hearst newspaper chain still contained 16 big city newspapers, whose combined daily circulation still exceeded five million.
But in the 1950s and 1960s, eleven Hearst newspapers were sold to a corporate buyer who was the publisher of a previously-competing newspaper in the same city. In Chicago, for example, Hearst sold its Chicago American for $11 million to its previous-competitor, The Chicago Tribune, in 1956. In Pittsburgh and Detroit, Hearst’s Pittsburgh Sun-Telegram and Detroit Times were also sold to their main competitors in these cities in 1960. In the early 1960s, Hearst also stopped publishing newspapers like the New York Mirror, the New York Journal-American and the Milwaukee Sentinel. According to The Hearsts: Family And Empire, “In virtually every Hearst newspaper sale of the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Justice Department investigated for possible antitrust violations.”
Despite the further reduction during the 1950s and 1960s of the number of big city newspapers it owned, Hearst’s newspaper chain was still the 8th-largest in the United States at the time the SLA “arrested” Patty Hearst in 1974. And in 1980, Hearst newspapers like the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, the Baltimore Herald-American, the Boston Herald-American, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the San Antonio Light and the Albany Times-Union and Albany Knickerbocker News still reached 1.4 million readers daily.
Although it stopped publishing its money-losing Baltimore and Boston newspapers during the Reagan Era, Hearst also decided in 1987 to increase its newspaper holdings in Texas by spending $375 million to purchase Texas’s biggest daily newspaper, the 407,000-circulation Houston Chronicle. During the 1990s, about 25 percent of the Hearst media conglomerate’s gross annual income came from the 12 daily and 5 non-daily newspapers it still put out in San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, San Antonio, Albany and in smaller cities in Texas and Illinois. And Hearst’s Newspaper Division was worth about $900 million in the 1990s.
[2008 Update: In the 21st-century, Cosmopolitan’s parent company still owns 15 daily and 31 weekly newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Albany Times Union. In addition, the 44 daily and 38 non-daily newspapers of the MediaNews Group chain, including the Denver Post and the Salt Lake Tribune, are also now partially owned by the Hearst Corporation media conglomerate].
Hearst has, historically, not been too popular with unionized labor because, despite the media conglomerate’s great wealth, it has shown little reluctance, historically, to sell and/or shut down individual Hearst newspapers and to lay off many newspaper employees without much notification. And it also has attempted to bust an employee’s union on occasion, In 1968, for example, William Randolph Hearst I’s grandson—George Hearst Jr.—provoked a long strike by his Los Angeles Herald-Examiner employees when he tried to break their union and, as a result, the AFL-CIO endorsed a nationwide boycott of all Hearst publications for awhile. Despite the union-busting at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, however, the newspaper continued to be economically unprofitable in the 1970s and 1980s and Hearst eventually shut down the newspaper in November, 1989.
Next: Cosmopolitan’s Historic Book Publishing And Real Estate Connection
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