As proof, Levin noted that shares of media company Belo Corp. shot up in October after it said it was spinning off its newspaper holdings from its broadcast business.
Newspaper executives said the changes were necessary to give their companies more financial options as the media marketplace evolves.
"It was a step in the right direction, but it was still a fairly small step," said John Sturm, president of the Newspaper Assn. of America, which has pushed for years to have the cross-ownership ban eliminated. Broadcasters also pushed for the changes, though not nearly as hard as newspaper companies.
In the end, the most important thing the FCC may have done for newspapers is grant waivers for the 42 existing newspaper-broadcast combinations, relieving them of concerns they one day might have to divest and removing a potential hurdle to sales.
Chicago-based Tribune, owner of The Times and KTLA Channel 5, received waivers last month from the rule to close its $8.2-billion deal to go private. Waiting for FCC approval delayed the deal and had threatened to prevent the company from closing by the end of the year until Tribune and its political allies successfully pushed the FCC to act.
"It's like going to buy a house and the guy's got a broken garage door. It was a negotiating positive for the buyer," Atorino of Benchmark Co. said. "There is no benefit to the newspapers . . . but it does allow newspapers with broadcasting to have a clearer field to sell if they want to."
FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell, who voted for the plan, said that newspapers "may disappear someday anyway, regardless of what we do today. But why should stale government industrial policy hasten their demise?"
Opponents of the rule change have charged that the industry remains profitable and that the FCC's Republican majority is only helping newspapers further consolidate to increase profits at the expense of average citizens who will lose independent news outlets.
"In this era of consolidation in so many industries, isn't cutting jobs about the first thing a merged entity almost always does so it can show Wall Street it is really serious about cutting costs and polishing up the next quarterly report?" said Commissioner Michael J. Copps, who voted against the plan. "These job losses are the result of consolidation. And more consolidation will mean more lost jobs."
John Morton, president of Morton Research Inc., a media consulting firm, said newspapers had seen the lessons of cross-ownership and weren't eager to join in.
"Synergy is supposed to mean two plus two equals five, but it often equals three. I suspect you're not going to see a big rush of newspaper companies trying to buy television stations."