October 31, 2017 Last Updated 12:05 pm

Cox Media Group says it will sell the Austin American-Statesman and its Palm Beach newspapers

The change in business strategy comes as the FCC signals that it will change media ownership rules, allowing a media company to own multiple outlets in the same market, making it hard for a publisher with only a newspaper in the market to compete

The first newspaper sales directly tied to what many believe will be new rules on media ownership from the Federal Communications Commission was announced today: Cox Media Group announced plans to sell the Austin American-Statesman, Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News.

The key to the decision is that Cox does not own TV and radio outlets in the towns where they will now sell their newspapers.

“After careful consideration, we have made the difficult but strategic decision to put our newspapers in Palm Beach and Austin up for sale,” Cox Media Group President Kim Guthrie said in a statement.

“As the media business continues to change, we must adapt our business strategy to navigate these disruptive times for the benefit of our entire media portfolio. We have made the decision that we will be better equipped to operate our newspapers in Atlanta and Ohio, where we have the integrated opportunity with our TV and radio operations.”

Media companies with both print and broadcast, such as Gannett, The Tribune Company, News Corp and Time Inc., for instance, have in the past few years decided in to split their companies up.

The reason usually given publicly is that the move is of benefit for shareholders. The real reason, many media reporters have postulated, is that print is dying and so this allows the broadcast divisions to prosper. Another reason, of course, is that spin-offs are highly lucrative for the executives involved in them.

But the whole reason to combine print and broadcast has been diversification. One downside to the strategy has been that the FCC would not allow a company to own both print and broadcast (radio or TV) in the same market, unless already grandfathered in. Now, however, the FCC has signaled that big business will have more power within the agency than consumer interests.

This has been seen as good news for newspaper publishers.

“Outdated regulations preventing investment in one sector of the media market do not make sense, particularly when newspapers compete with countless sources of news and information every day,” David Chavern, President & CEO of the News Media Alliance, said last week. “The news media industry must have economies of scale to compete in today’s marketplace and to reinvest in reporters and news-gathering operations that maintain an informed democracy and a functioning society.”

But this analysis feels itself outdated, as it probably would have helped many of the NMA’s members years ago. But now, it is possible that many newspapers will be even more vulnerable to other media competition should they only own print, while broadcasters would be able own more than one broadcast outlet in the same market.

Had the FCC changed the rules a few years ago, one wonders how many of the spin-offs we’ve seen recently would have actually taken place.

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