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Suburban Washington Newspaper Group Sold Again

December 27, 1991

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) _ Gannett Co. sold five suburban Washington newspapers to a subsidiary of a Florida-based company because of concerns the giant media company would be cited for violating ownership regulations.

The Journal newspapers and 10 weeklies owned by Gannett were sold Thursday to Newsco Inc., of Destin, Fla.

Newsco, along with sister companies Graphic Publications Inc. and Hometown Communications, Inc., owns papers in Kansas, Utah, Nebraska, Michigan, Indiana, Arkansas, Missouri and New Mexico, according to Newsco spokesman Brent Owen Leslie.

The conglomerate owns or has an interest in 15 daily newspapers and shoppers in the South and Midwest.

Gannett also owns USA Today, a national daily based in Arlington, Va., and a Washington television station, WUSA-TV.

The sale price was not disclosed.

FCC rules prohibit a company from holding a broadcast license and owning a local newspaper in the same market.

Gannett bought the Journal newspapers in August from shareholders of the Times Journal Co. of Springfield, Va., with an $18.5 million transfer of stock. Gannett also agreed to assume the Times Journal’s long-term debt.

Gannett spokeswoman Sheila Gibbons said the company believed Gannett would have been in unquestioned compliance will all rules had the Journal newspapers been weeklies, not dailies.

In September, a group of newspapers and a citizens organization promised a fight if Gannett asked for a waiver of the Federal Communications Commission’s ″crossover ownership,″ rules, saying the company had too much control over the Washington-area media market.

Six Washington-area newspapers and a group called The Washington Area Citizens Coalition Interested in Viewers’ Constitutional Rights petitioned the FCC to deny Gannett’s application to renew WUSA’s license.

The FCC delayed action on the request, said Andrew Schwartzman, executive director of Media Access Project, a law firm that represented the petitioners.

At the time, Gannett said it had time to study the situation because the FCC usually allows media companies a year to resolve any conflicts.

But on Thursday, Gannett said it had decided to sell rather than ask for a waiver.

″Without a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission, Gannett would have been required to reduce the publication schedule of the Journals to fewer than four times a week,″ the company’s statement said.

Schwartzman said he believed his clients would be satisfied with the sale.

″We’re very pleased,″ he said. ″This is what the FCC rules contemplate. It promotes diversity of ownership in the market and it’s good for the public and good for the First Amendment.″

C.F. McClughan, former publisher of the Culpeper (Va.) Star-Exponent was named publisher of the Journals, Gannett said.

Gannett owns 81 daily newspapers, 10 television stations, 15 radio stations and an outdoor advertising company.

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