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Concentration

A number of readers of the Tacoma News Tribune and the nearby Olympia Olympian put together a few pieces of information and asked the question: With McClatchy Newspapers, which already owns the paper at Tacoma, set to take over the paper at Olympia, might that mean closure of the smaller Olympia paper?

The reply today, from the publisher at Tacoma, was: “We have no intention of closing the Olympian or selling it.”

And there’s no immediate reason to think they will. Olympia (with Lacey and Tumwater) is a market distinct from Tacoma, even if it is only 30 miles away. It also is a growing market, which may be one reason McClatchy put the Olympian in the “keep” rather than the “spin off” category. There’s also some ugly newspaper industry history when companies try that sort of consolidation; an attempt some years back by Lee Newspapers to merge the Oregon papers at Albany and Corvallis, just 10 miles apart, blew up, and the papers remain mostly separate to this day.

That said, those concerned readers may be missing a larger issue: McClatchy is moving from being a substantial player in the Puget newspaper scene, to being the dominant player.

In addition to the Tacoma and Olympia operations, it also will own outright the paper at Bellingham, the Herald (also a keeper). And although the partnership has been mostly silent, McClatchy will have 49% of the leading paper in the Seattle area, the Seattle Times – no small consideration. And don’t forget another paper of substance, the Tri-City Herald, just over the Cascades.

What may this mean? Consolidation of some regional reporting? A reshuffled business picture, surely. It does mean a concentration of newspaper clout in the hands of one company unlike anything the Puget Sound, or even the Northwest, has ever seen before.

UPDATE NOTE: Several news stories have pointed out that McClatchy so far has been able to avoid the ever-growing pressures on profitability (and cutbacks at newsroomss) in part because the corporate stock is structured in such a way that the family has maintained strong voting control. This space suggested yesterday that McClatchy may have trouble resisting Wall Street and its larger investors; the stories suggest the stock structuring may allow it to do so.

Maybe – and we hope so. But we have our doubts, because the larger picture remains: The massive expansion of this company will mean far more outside, non-family, money will be coming into the picture. And it will come with a price that will insist, eventually if not immediately, on payment.

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