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Tribune group


This profile considers the Chicago-based Tribune group, dominated for most of its history by the McCormick family.

It covers -

  • Introduction
  • Holdings
  • The Tribune
  • The NY Daily News
  • Washington Times-Herald
  • Newsday
  • City News
  • Studies


In 2001 Chicago-based Tribune Group absorbed the Los Angeles Times-Mirror group.

The empire extends across newspaper and magazine publishing, online services, sports teams, printing and directories, television and radio broadcasting and production, and property. It's currently disposing of some interests, notably through sale of the Times-Mirror magazines to AOL Time Warner.

The Tribune corporate site is here.

The group centres on the Chicago Tribune, given a kick-start by funds from Cyrus McCormick - the robber baron who built International Harvester. His family - devoutly right wing (and notoriously isolationist in the 1930s and 40's) - ran the company until late last century.


The following page provides a map of Tribune holdings. In summary, it embraces the dominant newspapers in Chicago and Los Angeles, along with broadcasting, magazine publishing, online, sports and other interests.

Tribune owns and operates 26 television stations (19 of which are WB affiliates, making it the largest affiliate group of Time-Warner's WB Network), with a 40% coverage of US television households. It is the nation's second-largest newspaper publisher in terms of revenue and number three in total circulation.

The Tribune

The Chicago Tribune was founded in 1847 as the Daily Tribune but first attracted serious attention outside that town in 1855 when Canadian-born lawyer Joseph Medill became co-owner and editor. In 1858 it merged with the Democratic Press as the Chicago Daily Press & Tribune. In 1861 the paper became the Chicago Tribune. Joseph Medill regained control in 1874, after eight years under the more liberal editor Horace White. Competition from the Chicago Daily News was reflected in use of new technology (eg comic strips in colour from 1901 onwards) and reduction in price to 1 cent per copy, with consequent circulation growth.

Following Medill's death in 1899 the Tribune was led for a time by Medill's son-in-law Robert Wilson Patterson. His eldest daughter had married Robert Sanderson McCormick (1849-1919), nephew of Cyrus Hall McCormick, inventor of the reaper and owner of the Chicago Times.

Robert Patterson (1850-1910) worked as a reporter on the Chicago Times after leaving college and joined the Tribune in 1873. Marriage to Elinor Medill did not impede his rise from assistant night editor, Washington correspondent, editorial writer and managing editor to editor-in-chief.

His nephew Joseph Medill McCormick (1877-1925) worked on the Tribune, was instrumental in Teddy Roosevelt's 1912 Progressive Party campaign, served in the Illinois legislature (1913-17), US House of Representatives (1917-19) and Senate (1919-25). He'd married the daughter of politico and mining magnate Mark Hanna; unsurprisingly he was vehemently opposed to the League of Nations.

Medill's grandson Robert Rutherford McCormick (1880–1955) initially worked with cousin Joseph Medill Patterson in the management of the Tribune and after serving in the 1914-18 War became sole owner of the Tribune in 1925. The Tribune's daily circulation reached one million in that year. Colonel McCormick leveraged the Tribune's cash flow to build a chain of papers in Chicago and the midwest; by the late 1930s the Tribune group was dominant in the region. He also invested in broadcasting and other operations, notably WDAP (later WGN, for World's Greatest Newspaper) radio in 1924 and WGN television in 1948.

McCormick's Tribune was noted for the vigour of its anticommunism and attacks on the New Deal, surpassing even the Hearst papers in virulence. The politics and style of the Tribune and other publications in the group moderated following the Colonel's death in 1955, consistent with a move to corporate rather than individual management.

The NY Daily News

The New York Daily News was launched by Joseph Medill Patterson in 1919 as the Illustrated Daily News, a tabloid built around brash graphics, embodying the second generation of 'yellow journalism' and supposedly inspired by Northcliffe's advice to its owner in 1917. By 1940 as the Daily News it had a circulation of almost two million.

In 1991 the News was acquired by Robert Maxwell, whether as a diversion or to spite Rupert Murdoch (owner of the New York Daily Post). The paper went into receivership with Maxwell's death that year and in 1993 was purchased by property magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

In 2003 its average weekday circulation was around 735,000, trailing the Post's 620,080.

Joseph Medill Patterson (1879-1946) initially worked for his father at the Tribune, before resigning over a disagreement and writing two novels and The Fourth Estate, a play. He was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1903 on a reform platform, returning to the Tribune in 1910 after his father and serving as its editor from 1910 to 1925, when he was forced out by cousin Robert McCormick. He thereafter devoted most of his attention to the Daily News and to militant anticommunism. He founded Liberty magazine in 1924

Washington Times-Herald

Sister Eleanor 'Cissy' Medill Patterson (1884-1948) also inherited a stake in the Tribune, worked at the Daily News and in 1930 became editor of Hearst's Washington Herald. In 1937, drawing on funds from sale of her Tribune interests, she leased the Herald and the Washington Times. She purchased both titles in 1939, merging them as the Washington Times-Herald.


Newsday is a daily tabloid serving Long Island and the New York City borough of Queens. It is among the leading US newspapers by circulation.

It was launched in 1940 by Alicia Patterson (1906-63), daughter of Joseph Medill Patterson, with primary funding from third husband Frank Guggenheim. It was acquired by Times Mirror in 1970. Newsday offered a New York City edition from 1985 to 1995.

City News

In 2005 the Tribune announced closure of City News Service, the successor of the cooperative City News service for newspapers and broadcasters. The service started in Chicago in 1890 as the City News Bureau and was owned by Chicago's major daily newspapers until the Tribune became the sole owner. The service traditionally paid entry level rates, recruiting young (often untrained reporters) who were encouraged to prove themselves or find a new job. Staff included Kurt Vonnegut, Seymour Hersh and Charles MacArthur, whose experience forms the basis of The Front Page (1928) with Ben Hecht.


There has been no major recent history of the Tribune group. Arguably the best biography is The Colonel: The Life & Legend of Robert McCormick 1880-1955 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1997) by Richard Norton Smith. Print historian John Tebbel's An American Dynasty (Westport: Greenwood 1968) is unfortunately out of print. McCormick's The American Revolution and Its Influence on World Civilization (1945) embodies his views on the joys of isolationism and the wickedness of Europe, explored in The Foreign Policy of Col. McCormick's Tribune, 1929-1941 (Reno: Uni of Nevada Press 1971) by Jerome Edwards.

Joseph Gies in The Colonel of Chicago (New York: Dutton 1979) and Lloyd Wendt in The Chicago Tribune: The Rise Of A Great American Newspaper (Chicago: Rand McNally 1979) buff the legend. They are more critical than Frank Waldrop's McCormick of Chicago: An Unconventional Portrait of a Controversial Figure (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall 1966) or Philip Kinsley's three volume The Chicago Tribune: Its First Hundred Years (New York: Knopf 1943-46) and Liberty & the Press: A History of the Chicago Tribune's Fight to Preserve a Free Press for the American People (Chicago: Chicago Tribune 1944).

The latter illustrates George Seldes' quip that in Chicago a 'free press' meant the Tribune was free to print without constraints such as truth.

For a recent newsroom account see James Squires' Read All About It! The Corporate Takeover of America's Newspapers (New York: Times 1993).

For Newsday and the Washington Times-Herald see the house history A Candid History of the Respectable Tabloid (New York: Morrow 1997) by Robert Keeler and Tell It to Sweeney: The Informal History of the New York Daily News (Westport: Greenwood 1961) by John Chapman. New York Noir: Crime Photos from the Daily News Archive (New York: Rizzoli 1999) by William Hannigan and New York Exposed : Photographs from the Daily News (New York: Abrams 2001) by Shawn O'Sullivan showcase images from the 1920s through 1990s.

Cissy Patterson, the Colonel's equally zany niece, features in Cissy: The Extraordinary Life of Eleanor Medill Patterson (New York: Simon & Schuster 1979) by Ralph Martin, Cissy: A Biography of Eleanor M "Cissy" Patterson (Garden City: Doubleday 1966) by Paul Healy and Cissy Patterson: The Life of Eleanor Medill Patterson, Publisher & Editor of the Washington Times-Herald (New York: Random 1966) by Alice Hoge.

For a somewhat conspiracist account of Carlyle see Dan Briody's The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group (New York: Wiley 2003). For Cyrus McCormick and IH see Cyrus Hall McCormick (New York: Appleton-Century 1935) by William Hutchinson and A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester Company (Garden City: Doubleday 1985) by Barbara Marsh.

The Chicago school of journalism, somewhat more entertaining than the school of economics, features in Hecht & Macarthur's 1928 Broadway hit The Front Page, progenitor of films from His Girl Friday to Broadcast News. Robert Schmuhl commented in 2003 that

"The play has been called the Rosetta stone of journalism, the key to figuring out the hieroglyphics and high jinks of a strange craft. It's also in many ways a theatrical Rorschach test. While most journalists and kindred spirits applaud the anarchic antics and comic cynicism involved in covering a big story, others find the irresponsibility and devotion to sensationalism an affirmation of their complaints about the press."

For Charles MacArthur see in particular Hecht's 1954 A Child of the Century, 1957 Charlie: The Improbable Life & Times of Charles MacArthur and 1963 Gaily, Gaily.