The Death Tax Kills a D.C. News Service

By November 15, 2007Media Relations, Taxation

A reporter friend passes on this story from San Diego, chronicling the demise of Copley News Service and its Washington, D.C. bureau (among others). Copley is the parent company of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Copley News Service’s Washington bureau began the year with a staff of 10. It will end it with three or four (the final numbers were still being worked out), and they will be absorbed by the Union-Tribune. Mexico City correspondent Lynne Walker, a Pulitzer finalist, will also join the Union-Tribune staff, as will the two-person bureau in Sacramento. The Los Angeles bureau of Copley is closing down altogether. The news syndicate part of the business will continue, but what else will remain of Copley News Service isn’t clear.

The news service was established to serve the company’s chain of newspapers, but almost all of those papers have been sold off to pay owner David Copley’s estate taxes. The death of Copley’s mother, Helen, in 2004 left her only child with a staggering debt to the IRS. (Estate taxes are sometimes blamed for killing off family-owned newspapers in America.)

Faced with insufficient resources to pay the bill, Copley probably had little choice but to sell off the company’s dailies in Ohio and Illinois this year with the goal of hanging on to the flagship Union-Tribune.

So the death tax has helped reduce the number of journalistic outlets that help hold power and politicians accountable. A shame.

BTW, Frank Blethen, publisher and CEO of the family-owned Seattle Times, has always been a forceful advocate for ending the death tax in part because of the threat it poses to the newspaper, founded in 1896.

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