Dan Behrens is living a century of family history when he proofreads the pages of the Marysville Journal-Tribune, looking for typos, making sure the headlines are correct and the stories make sense.
His mother and grandfather did the same before him. And it is a duty that Behrens, 61, newspaper's editor and publisher, plans to eventually pass to a fifth generation in his 30-year-old son, Kevin Behrens, who serves as the newspaper's general manager.
The Behrens family, which marked its 100th anniversary of newspaper ownership in Marysville last week , is a vanishing breed in an era of growing corporate ownership of newspapers and radio and television stations.
Out of the 1,450 daily newspapers in the United States, about 270 are independent operations that are not part of a group, according to researchers for Editor & Publisher's International Year Book. A group is defined as at least three publications.
Independent or family-run newspaper operations in the United States have been in rapid decline: In 1994, there were 340, there were 440 in 1986, 850 in 1960 and 1,650 in 1920, according to a 1998 American Journalism Review article.
The numbers are likely to continue to shrink. Small newspapers can generate big profits for corporations while families may sell if there are no offspring who want to join the family business.
Bill Reader, an assistant professor at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in Athens, said some large groups count on smaller newspapers to make up profits for their larger newspapers. Conversely, it is hard for some independent newspapers to remain profitable, he said.
Sandy and Thad Poulson, 68, have spent the past 30 years as publishers of the Daily Sitka Sentinel in southeastern Alaska. The couple also owns a print shop and rental property to generate revenue to keep their 3,000 daily circulation newspaper running. Sandy Poulson, 64, said the family has resisted repeated offers to buy the newspaper that employs various family members, including the couple's children.
"We're a dying breed. I just don't think there's any substitute for being part of the community," she said. "We're a 'ma and pa' original."
Reader said corporations and larger family operations have the advantage of lower production costs and can centralize some operations, such as printing and copy editing.
Roy Brown, president and chief executive of the family-run Brown Publishing Co., which has grown to include 17 daily newspapers and 50 weeklies in Ohio, said growing corporate ownership can make sense.
Companies can advertise products in multiple markets less expensively, news can be shared and collected among the newspapers in the same group and it is easier to spread good managers among the newspapers while handling employee turnover, Brown said.
Reader said he has seen the gains and losses of corporate ownership across the country. He said some good newspapers have suffered when purchased by corporations, while some poorly run small newspapers have put out a much better product when purchased by a group.
Dan Behrens's grandfather Bruce B. Gaumer bought the Union County Journal in 1904. Behrens said there have been some overtures from companies about buying the newspaper, but nothing serious. He said his biggest concern is that the company would not serve the community as his family has.
"If it's good for Marysville and Union County, we're for it. That's been our slogan," he said. "We've shown that."