Unsung owner saved newspaper

The Gazette and Daily/

York Daily Record

3

31 E. King St., York

The situation

For any business, civic organization or any other community institution to last 225 years, key figures must step forward at important moments with a plan and the energy and courage to put it in place.

And the price can be great for the person at the top and employees who carry out the plans.

The new partners introducing the York Daily Record in 1970 after J.W. Gitt retired The Gazette and Daily’s nameplate.

The York Daily Record and its predecessors, observing 225 years in business in 2021, have benefited from three long-term owners: David Small, 49 years, from 1836 to 1885; J.W. Gitt, 55 years, from 1915 to 1970; and Buckner News Alliance, 26 years, from 1978 to 2004.

But a little-known owner in the 1970s made a big play to help the York Daily Record stay in business.

“I have to wonder if the YDR would have survived,” Phil Buckner wrote in an email, “if Jim Scoggins hadn’t come to the fore.”

Buckner headed Buckner News Alliance, successor to Scoggins, YDR owner from 1973 to 1978.

Under BNA, the YDR gained a reputation as a newspaper that punched above its weight, producing investigative reports and community engagement projects that brought local, state and national recognition. That high level of journalistic work continued under MediaNews Group, Digital First Media and Gannett (USA Today Network), successors to Buckner News Alliance.

The witness

In recent emails, Buckner told the story of Jimmy D. Scoggins and the York Daily Record in the 1970s. Buckner is likely the only living person who was in a firsthand position to tell that story.

The 1973 account of the York Daily Record’s new owner, Jimmy D. Scoggins.

Here’s Buckner’s account of those five years:

In December 1972, George Cooper, a newspaper broker, was representing the owners of the York Daily Record (YDR) who wished to sell. He brought “the deal” to my attention as well as to other prospective buyers. I was in Kauai, Hawaii with my family at the time. I had never been to York, Pennsylvania, but the size of the newspaper (circulation 40,000, Monday through Saturday) got my attention.

So, for a couple of weeks, I spent hours in a phone booth gathering information. Note, this predated cell phones and the land line in our rental condo was useless. One contact was Jim Scoggins, publisher of The Lewistown Sentinel, who expressed an interest in becoming the publisher of the YDR under the ownership of Buckner News Alliance (BNA).

Three newspapers were competing in York, namely the YDR in the morning, The Dispatch (owned by a York family) in the afternoon, and The York Sunday News (owned by a Lancaster, Pennsylvania family). The YDR was housed in an old building in downtown York; it was still using “hot metal” equipment; it was overstaffed; and was losing money. Last, and not least, it was shackled with three trade unions.

You could say that it was a “nonstarter.” When I returned to Seattle in January 1973, I told the broker and Jim Scoggins that I was not going to do the deal. Jim Scoggins asked if I had any objection to his attempting to do the deal. I wished him success.

The YDR had several things going for it. It occupied the ascendent publishing cycle, namely “morning.” Television was gradually killing afternoon newspapers. The afternoon Dispatch was locked into a 19th-century editorial format and had not converted to cost saving “offset” printing. The owners of The Dispatch did not have deep pockets. The York Sunday News was a weekly, and it was a knock off of the Lancaster Sunday News. Much of its York news section was dated and it did not have a York classified section.

Jim Scoggins had some things going for him. The YDR was bankrupt. If there were no buyers, a local bank might take a loss on a $400,000 bank loan. He was an experienced newspaper publisher. He didn’t have any capital, so he didn’t have much to lose except his time. Because he didn’t have capital, he was in a strong bargaining position with the unions. He could say, convincingly, that “I am here to save this newspaper, for you and me. Maybe we can make it work, but there have to be some major changes.”

Coverage of Buckner News Alliance’s acquisition of the York Daily Record in 1978.

Major changes meant that the union contracts were, as a practical matter, going to be ignored. So, he made a deal with the bank: come up with $100,000 operating capital, and assume the $400,000 bank loan. Jim put together $10,000 out of his own pocket, and $90,000 from Lewistown investors. Now the property was his. The downtown real estate was likely worth $300,000, accordingly, the assumption of the bank loan didn’t represent much risk.

Jim published the YDR for the next five years and that story is not for me to tell, except to say that he had made massive changes to the staff, and the plant, and was operating with positive cash flow. This had come at a cost to his health and his marriage.

In 1978, Jim offered to sell the YDR to BNA for $1,000,000 plus the assumption of a $6,000,000 pension liability that came with the company that he bought from the owners, as opposed to buying it out of a bankruptcy proceeding. Federal law required the liability to be amortized and the unions were threatening to take him to court for non-performance.

BNA purchased the YDR in March, 1978. Jim had purchased, mostly on credit, two small dailies, one at Winsted, Connecticut, and another at Excelsior Springs, Missouri. They were included in the BNA purchase and were quickly sold off netting very little.

This completes the story of BNA’s purchase of the YDR. Dave Martens came from Tiffin, Ohio in 1978 to assume management of the YDR and initiated a new era for the YDR. Much has been written about the ensuing history and can be found in Jim McClure’s essays.

The questions

Our First Amendment rights include the freedom of press. Our Founding Fathers knew the importance of a media, uninhibited by the government. YDR, as well as many other news sources, provide valuable information to York Countians. And the role of the newspaper has changed over time. How important is it to perpetuate and support local news sources like YDR? What can we do as citizens to ensure our First Amendment rights are protected?

For more about the York Daily Record in the 1970s – and today – please check out: YDR celebrates its 225th anniversary.

Two other owners have operated the York Daily Record since Buckner News Alliance sold the newspaper and its digital operations to MediaNews Group in 2004. Digital First Media succeeded MediaNews Group and then the YDR’s current owner, Gannett, acquired the newspaper in 2015.

Related links and sources “I saw it in the paper,’ 200th anniversary retrospective about the YDR, James McClure. Photo, York Daily Record


— By JAMIE KINSLEY and JIM McCLURE

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