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The FCC’s proposal to change cross-ownership rules receives criticism from newspapers

Five years ago, newspapers had a grand vision. They would consolidate print and electronic media in towns and cities throughout the United States, creating consolidated newsrooms and shared advertising.

The FCC tried accommodate them by loosening ownership rules in 2003. A federal court threw out the first attempts. Now, in a last chance effort, FCC chairman Kevin Martin is trying to push through a compromise.

But newspaper executives say Martin’s plan is too little, too late.

“I think the commission missed the boat,” William Dean Singleton, chief executive of Media News, one of the nation’s largest newspaper chains, told the “Washington Post.”

Media News, based in Denver, had hoped to buy TV stations in markets where it owned newspapers in 2003, but had to abandon those plans when the court threw out the FCC’s first set of rules. Now, Martin’s proposal won’t help him buy stations, Singleton said.

“It’s the smaller markets that are losing television news” and need the relief of cross-ownership, he said. As an example, Singleton cited Farmington, NM, where he owns a paper. The last local TV news broadcast signed off this year, he said, because the station could no longer afford a news operation.

Tribune has continued to push hardest for lifting the media ownership ban, thus ending the need for the waivers it has for owning newspapers and TV stations in Chicago, For Lauderdale, Los Angeles and New York. But, if the new rules are passed, the company most likely will have to sell either its newspaper or TV station in Hartford, CT, which is not among the top 20 markets, the FCC’s Martin told the “Post”. There were reports that Tribune executives were unhappy with Martin’s plan.

The Newspaper Association of America, the industry’s main trade association, said Martin didn’t go far enough. “The fundamental issues he raises concerning the vitality of newspapers and assuring that local news remains available to the public in print and in broadcast are not confined to the top 20 markets,” said John F. Sturm, president and chief executive of the trade organization.

Since the debate, began, however, the Internet has reshaped the media environment. As the Internet has depleted television’s viewers, fewer newspaper companies now see a financial advantage in owning TV stations.