Profits vs. responsibility

The Nashville Scene—the alternative weekly around those parts, generally thought of as one of the best weeklies in the country—recently published a five-part series called “Grading the Daily.” As the title indicates, the series looked at the town’s daily newspaper, the The Tennessean, upside-down and backwards. One of the series’ conclusions was that the Gannett-owned paper was declining in quality as its profitability skyrocketed.

And people think we’re hard on the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Speaking of the Gazette-Journal, one of the more interesting parts of the series focused on the profit margins of many Gannett-owned newspapers, such as the Gazette-Journal. Scene reporter Willy Stern was able to determine the operating profit margins of each newspaper owned by the company from 1994-1997 using internal Gannett documents, and what he found was amazing.

In 1994, according to the Scene’s investigation, the Gazette-Journal raked in a 36.6 percent profit margin. In 1995, it was 36.9 percent. In 1996, it was 40.5 percent. And in 1997, it was 41.7 percent.

According to statistics cited by the Scene, the average operating profit margin among all publicly traded businesses in 1997 was 7.7 percent.


Gannett even had 14 newspapers with higher margins than the Gazette-Journal in 1997, with the Pacific Daily News in Agama, Guam, coming in at No. 1, with a 50.4 percent profit margin.

It’s long been rumored that the Gazette-Journal is one of the most profitable businesses in town. A 41.7 percent profit margin confirms that it probably is. (By the way, didn’t the Gazette-Journal recently lay off seven people?)

You have to give them credit. Gazette management is doing an amazing service to its stockholders, and in this capitalist society, they are certainly doing what they’re supposed to.

But we also live in a society where newspapers have a duty to provide good, fair, solid coverage of the community. Are they doing what they’re supposed to in this sense? Or are they putting their duty to stockholders over their duty to their readers?

I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Last week, I wrote that Gov. Kenny Guinndid the right thing when he vetoed Assembly Bill 481, which would have made it illegal for car stereos to be loud enough to be heard 25 feet away. My points were that this was a matter that should be up to cities and counties, not the state, and that there are far bigger problems that our legislators should be worrying about. Also, it would be extremely hard to enforce and seemed too vague. In other words: This was a stupid bill all around.

Well, some people disagreed with me. One of those in disagreement was a regular caller to the RN&R during the last several years, a very smart, older gentleman who never gives his name. His argument in favor of the bill was interesting, and I thought I’d share it.

He says the bill was valid because the preamble to the U.S. Constitution promises “domestic tranquility.” In his opinion, these loud car stereos are greatly upsetting his domestic tranquility. Since the cities and counties hadn’t done anything about the problem, it was great that the state was doing something about it.

He asked me to reconsider my stance—and even told me to think about a “retraction.” I did reconsider, and there will be no retraction.

While the caller makes an interesting argument, I still believe Guinn was right to veto AB 481. Despite the promises of the Constitution, we live in a city, after all, where there are going to be noises. And all the problems I had with the bill—local control, bigger problems, enforcement issues, general stupidity—remain problems.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Good job, Gov. Guinn.