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Writer: Sarah Burke
CONTACT: MARY GERAGHTY
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e-mail: mary-geraghty@uiowa.edu

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UI faculty members receive grant to study the business of newspapers

IOWA CITY, Iowa--Three University of Iowa faculty members have received a $100,000 grant to examine the rise of the publicly-traded newspaper corporation and how such an enterprise balances the tension between journalistic and corporate values and responsibilities.

The study, entitled the University of Iowa Newspaper Research Project, is the brainchild of John Soloski, the director of the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Gil Cranberg, professor of journalism, and Randy Bezanson professor of law.

The faculty members' research is funded by the Open Society Institute, a private operating foundation created and funded by international philanthropist George Soros to foster the development of open societies around the world.

"We will be studying the changes in economics and ownership structure of the newspaper to see if they are in fact affecting the news journalistic function," Bezanson said.

In the last 10 to 20 years, the newspaper industry has seen the purchase of several

family-owned newspapers by large corporations. It is widely assumed that corporate America, driven by the bottom line, will compromise the quality and integrity of journalism. Soloski, however, said it is dangerous to make such assumptions.

"There has always been an interest, a concern of corporate ownership in journalism. Corporate ownership can by default be bad, but it can also be very good, just as there can be very bad local owners. We need to be careful about making causal relationships," he said.

Bezanson, Cranberg and Soloski have no preconceived notions about what their research will uncover. "We will begin by asking a series of questions," Soloski said. "For example, in the structuring of the rewards system, how does quality fit in? Are CEOs rewarded on the financial performance of the paper or on the quality of the journalism?"

Cranberg said these and other questions will help to determine the project's direction. "Journalists in recent years have expressed concern that their interests and the interests of readers are being sacrificed for the interests of shareholders," said Cranberg. "We plan to interview a large number of editors and newspaper corporate executives for their perspective on the question."

This will not be the first time that these three faculty members have undertaken a major research project together. In the early 1980s they joined forces on the Iowa Libel Research Project. Their work produced one book-length work and a series of articles. "We have spent the better part of the last decade working with one another," Soloski said.

Bezanson said that like their libel research, this study will probably yield several articles or possibly a book.

For more information about the UI Newspaper Research Project, contact Soloski at

335-3482, Bezanson at 335-9171 or Cranberg at 335-3362.

2/27/98