Last `Post' leaves Houston no choice

Washington - With hardly a word of warning, the venerable Houston Post closed down yesterday, taken over by its main rival in a deal that confers upon its home town the unwanted distinction of being the largest city in the US with only one daily newspaper, writes Rupert Cornwell.

The end of the 110-year-old Post came with a suddenness rare even by the brutal standards of the industry. A late- morning announcement said the paper and all its assets were being taken over by the Houston Chronicle, its larger competitor, owned by the Hearst Corporation, and 1,500 stunned Post employees were given until 5pm to clear their desks. They will receive two months' severance pay.

The editor, Gerald Garcia, said he was shocked by what had happened: "I thought this was just another passing situation; I just did not foresee this." It was the third closure of a big city daily in Texas, after the demise of the Dallas Times Herald in 1991 and the San Antonio Light two years later.

The circulation of the Post had long lagged behind that of the Chronicle, most lately at 287,000 copies daily compared to 412,000 for its competitor. But, according to its owner, William Singleton, the last nail in his paper's coffin was the recent sharp rise in newsprint costs, from $400 a ton a year ago to an expected $675 (£435) a ton next month. Apart from Hearst, no other potential buyer was ready to pay the reported $120m asking price for the Post and the Justice Department's anti-trust division had little choice but to approve the transaction. Houston, the fourth most populous metro area in the country, is now the largest without competing newspapers, joining cities like Atlanta, Baltimore and St Louis.

Apart from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the three largest metro areas, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle and Denver are among those which still have two papers. Others, like San Francisco and Detroit, boast two titles, but these have close financial links.

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