'UPI Clients Pleased About New Ownership'

Here's a June 6, 1982, New York Times story on change of ownership at UPI, under the siner of Jonathan Friendly:

Officials of newspapers and broadcasting stations that use the services of United Press International say they are pleased the news agency has new owners but also express uncertainty about what the owners intend to do to improve the news-gathering operations.

"I'm glad they finally found a buyer," said William B. Ketter, editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass. The editor, a former U.P.I. employee, said he had "overwhelming curiosity" about who the buyers were, how much money they had and what they intended to do to strengthen the new service's regional coverage.

United Press International was sold Wednesday to a group of four relatively unknown newspaper and television operators who formed the Media News Corporation. The sale ended a three-year effort by the E.W. Scripps Company of Cincinnati to rid itself of the troubled news agency, which lost more than $8 million last year and expected to lose $5.5 million this year.

That effort had stirred fears among clients, as well as among the agency's employees, that the agency might be closed, ending 75 years of competition with The Associated Press, the nation's largest news agency. The competition, the U.P.I. clients said, has provided readers and listeners with more complete and up-to-date information than they would have received from a single news agency.

U.P.I. has an annual budget of $110 million, a third less than the A.P.'s, and about 2,000 employees around the world, as against its competitor's staff of 2,600. The Associated Press is a cooperative of newspapers and broadcasting stations that assesses its members the cost of its operations. U.P.I. has no such flexibility. To reduce its deficit, which reached $12 million in 1980, it has cut the size of its news staff, which makes competing all the more difficult.

The best known of the four new owners is Len R. Small, editor and publisher of The Daily Dispatch in Moline, Ill. He is also vice president of the Small Newspaper Group, a family-owned business in Kankakee, Ill., with seven daily and three weekly papers. The 39-year-old Mr. Small, the chairman of Media News, said he felt his experience had given him some training for tackling the new service's problems.

The Small family has been close friend with Roderick L. Beaton, the president of U.P.I., who said he had not taken a major role in arranging the sale but allowed that his tie to the Smalls "probably was not damaging."

The Small family is "first rate," said James Hoge, publisher of The Chicago Sun-Times. "They bring instant credibility to the new ownership," agreed Robert L. Page, a former U.P.I. executive and now a vice president of News American Publishing Inc., the Rupert Murdoch-owned parent company of The New York Post.

The other three owners are Douglas Ruhe and William E. Geissler, partners in the Nashville-based Focus Communications Company and Cordell J. Overgaard, a Chicago lawyer who has represented the Small family. Clients of U.P.I. said they were not particularly concerned that two of the owners, Mr. Ruhe and Mr.Giessler, had been active in civil rights and resistance to the Vietnam War.

The clients said they were concerned, however, that the new owners had not shown they had the financial resources needed to improve the news agency. "Our interest is that we have two good viable wire services," said Kenneth L. Bagwell, an officer of Storer Broadcasting Company and chairman of a 15-member board that advises U.P.I. on the concerns of broadcasting clients. "The question is how much money they will be willing to put in."

"We have enough money" to pay the operating losses and develop new services, Mr. Ruhe said last week.

Mr. Beaton has said that Scripps would not have sold U.P.I. to the four men "unless they felt they were adequately financed and backstopped."

"I happen to know" what the backing is, Mr. Beaton said, "and I'm very comfortable with it."