Unification Church arm acquires UPI


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Unification Church affiliate that owns the Washington Times newspaper has acquired United Press  International wire service which broke the news of President John Kennedy's assassination but has since fallen on hard times, the agency said Monday.

UPI said in an article Monday that News World Communications, established by Unification Church head Rev. Sun Myung Moon, "plans to maintain UPI as an independent news-gathering operation, while upgrading its capacity with new technologies and distribution practices."

Since it was established by Moon in 1982, the Washington Times has provided a consistently conservative editorial voice in the nation's capital. Moon also lists on his Internet site newspapers in Seoul, Tokyo, Montevideo, Athens, Los Angeles and New York.

UPI reached its peak in the late 1950s when it had some 5,000 newspaper and broadcast clients. Over the next several decades the client base shrank. UPI recently sold its once-powerful broadcast division to its long-time rival, the Associated Press.

In recent years UPI has been most famous for its chief White House reporter, Helen Thomas, the dean of presidential journalists who has covered every president since Kennedy.

"Unipressers" in their heyday were some of the best known bylines in American journalism. The wire service's alumni included Walter Cronkite, Howard K. Smith, David Brinkley, Eric Sevareid and Harrison Salisbury.

UPI scored numerous coups in journalism, perhaps most notably its beat over AP of the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of Kennedy.
Smith seized the only phone on the press car in the presidential motorcade and refused to relinquish it to his AP counterpart, Jack Bell.

The first word of the assassination to the rest of the world was Smith's and he went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting.

But there were gaffes as well, such as an April 28, 1986 report that 2,000 people had been killed in the Chernobyl nuclear accident and a "beat" on the signing of the Armistice ending World War I that moved four days before the ink went on the
paper Nov. 11, 1918.

United Press was launched June 21, 1907, by newspaper magnate Edward Wyllis Scripps in part because he wanted a news agency to serve his afternoon dailies that the morning-paper oriented AP would not serve.

Thus began a long competitive rivalry with the larger, richer AP that often was one of the most intense of American journalism.

In May 1958 United Press merged with the third major U.S. wire service, William Randolph Hearst's International News Service. Known as United Press International and now armed with many of of INS' well-known correspondents around the world, UPI
set out to challenge the AP.

But it started losing money within four years and never stopped. Battered by the rise of television news and the shrinking number of afternoon newspapers -- the backbone of the wire service's news report -- UPI shrank in size and kept losing money.

Still there were days of glory left. UPI won six more Pulitzer Prizes in reporting and photography in addition to Smith's and called the 1976 presidential election of Jimmy Carter before any other news organization.

After trying for years to unload UPI to a reputable news organization, UPI's owner, the Scripps Howard newspaper chain paid two inexperienced Nashville, Tennessee, entrepreneurs, Doug Ruhe and Bill Geisler, $5 million to take it in 1982.

The two presided over a news agency that hemorrhaged money, lost clients and sold off assets -- including its overseas news pictures operation to Reuters -- and eventually had to file for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11.

Over the next decade UPI changed hands three times -- first being sold to Mexican publisher Mario Vazquez-Rana, then to California venture capitalist Earl Brian.

UPI has been owned by a group of Saudi Arabian businessmen since 1992.