Several newspaper industry spokesmen yesterday welcomed legislation proposed by Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), designed to encourage independent local newspaper ownership.
Joining Udall at a Capitol Hill news conference, moments after the bill was introduced, Nashville Tennessean publisher John Seigenthaler said he had talked with half a dozen other, unnamed publishers who support the proposal.
"Publicly held chains, which dominate great segments of this industry at this time, have stockholders far removed from [concerns about] deadlines or leads . . . or content," said Seigenthaler, who was a top Justice Department spokesman during the Kennedy administration.
"This legislation moves in the right direction," the publisher said. He noted specifically the situation faced at his newspaper, owned by the Evans family. Mrs. Lucile McCrea Evans, the chairman is in her 70s and her son, the president (Amon C. Evans), is in his 40s. "At her death the impact of her taxes would be devastating for him," creating the prospect of an offer by a chain for a tax free exchange "that really is attractive," Seigenthaler added.
Udall's bill would authorize trusts to finance future estate tax liabilities from current newspaper profits. The plan would apply only to weekly or daily papers not owned by chains (a company with two or more newspapers) or public corporations.
By offering tax incentives, Udall said, he hopes local ownership can be preserved. The legislation was referred to the Ways and Means Committee where it may be considered at hearings next year.
Eugene C. Patterson, president and editor of the St. Petersburg, Fla., Times and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said Udall's bill "goes to one of the problems . . . it's a damned positive idea."
Emphasizing that his newspaper would not be affected by enactment of such a law, because ownership has been willed to an educational institution. Patterson said in a telephone interview that tax incentives are a proper approach to prevent further ownership concentration.
But he noted that the proposal to "lock the barn door" comes "after a lot of horses have departed," a reference to statistics showing 60 per cent of U.S. dailies owned by 170 companies with two or more papers each and continued acquisitions by newspaper chains.
Press critic Ben Bagdikian, a former ombudsman and national editor at The Washington Post and now a teacher of journalism at the University of California in Berkeley, said the proposal "is a good idea for the remaining papers, mostly small, that are family held . . . and for people who start up a paper and build it up so it has a great deal of value . . . it's medicine applied late, but better late than never."
Joe D. Smith Jr., current chairman of the American Newspaper Publishers Association and publisher of the Daily Town Talk in Alexandria, La., noted that his organization previously had suggested that Congress pay attention to "inequities in tax laws affecting business, including newspapers."
The ANPA "applauds the Udall bill as an important first step in this arena," he added.