Niagara Gazette

Columns

June 16, 2013

GLYNN: WGRZ owner buys KING-TV in Seattle

Niagara Gazette — Gannett, which owns WGRZ (Ch. 2) in Buffalo, is in the process of buying KING-TV, the Seattle-based station with a rich history in the broadcast industry.

If regulators and shareholders of Belo Corp., the KING-TV owner, approve the purchase, Gannett will pay about $1.5 billion in cash while assuming a $715 million debt. Gannett, which has reported the largest newspaper circulation in the country, owned the Niagara Gazette for more than 40 years, before this paper was acquired by Community First Holdings Inc., of Birmingham, Ala.

Al Tompkins, a broadcast and online specialist with the Poynter Institute, said Thursday that Gannett and Belo are a good corporate match, with a concern for their investigative work and willingness to provide local stations with some autonomy. On the local front, WGRZ has gained significantly in ratings through its investigative coverage with such features as “Holding Public Officials Accountable.” That also has been a hallmark of KING-TV broadcasting for years.

There is, however, another side to the story. Some critics contend that Gannett now controls too much of what Americans read and watch. In fact, a spokesperson for Free Press, a Washington, D.C., watchdog on multiple media ownership, said the advocacy group will probably urge the Federal Communications Commission  to take an indepth look at the proposed sale.

Thanh Tan, an editorial writer for the Seattle Times, has questioned the Gannett purchase. “Local television remains an integral part of so many lives. When ownership changes, our community loses a sense of certainty in a station — a critical thing for any company to have when it is responsible for delivery credible information to the masses.”  

As a result of the KING-TV (Belo) purchase, Gannett will become one of the largest owners of network affiliates, reaching into about one-third of U.S. households. Virtually overnight, Gannett’s portfolio will jump from 23 to 43 stations. It will claim 21 stations in the nation’s top 25 TV markets.

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