United Press International (UPI) is a news agency headquartered in the United States with roots dating back to 1907. Once a mainstay in the newswire service along with Associated Press (AP) and Reuters, it began to decline as afternoon newspapers, its chief client category, began to fail with the rising popularity of television news. This decline accelerated after the sale of UPI by the founding Scripps family culminating in two bankruptcies.
In 2000, UPI was purchased by News World Communications, a media company owned by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. The news wire's daily coverage today includes domestic and international top news, business, entertainment, sports, science, health and "Quirks in the News" through its traditional NewsTrack newswire, as well as coverage and analysis of emerging threats, the security industry and energy resources through its "premium" service. UPI's content is presented in text, video and photo formats. Its news stories are filed in English, Spanish and Arabic.
Newspaper publisher Edward W. Scripps (1854–1926) created the first chain of newspapers in the United States. After the Associated Press refused to sell its services to several of his papers, Scripps together with partner Milton A. McRae combined three regional news services (the Publisher's Press Association, Scripps McRae Press Association, and the Scripps News Association) into the United Press Associations, which began service on June 21, 1907. Scripps founded United Press on the principle that there should be no restrictions on who could buy news from a news service. William Randolph Hearst entered the fray in 1909 when he founded International News Service.
The AP was owned by its newspaper members, who could simply decline to serve the competition. Scripps had refused to become a member of AP, calling it a "monopoly, pure and simple" and declaring it was "impossible for any new paper to be started in any of the cities where there were AP members." (AP appeared in 1848, when six New York City newspapers formed a cooperative to gather and share telegraph news, but the name Associated Press did not come into general use until the 1860s.)
Scripps believed that there should be no restrictions on who could buy news from a news service and he made UP available to anyone, including his competitors. He later said: "I regard my life's greatest service to the people of this country to be the creation of the United Press."
Frank Bartholomew, UPI's last reporter-president, took over in 1955, obsessed with bringing Hearst's International News Service (INS) into UP. He put the "I" in UPI on May 24, 1958, when UP and INS merged to become United Press International. Hearst, who owned King Features Syndicate, received a small share of the merged company. Lawyers on both sides worried about anti-trust problems if King competitor United Features Syndicate remained a part of the newly merged company, so it was made a separate Scripps company, which deprived UPI of a persuasive sales tool and the money generated by Charles M. Schulz' popular Peanuts and other comic strips.
The new UPI had 6,000 employees and 5,000 subscribers, 1,000 of them newspapers.
Later that year, it launched the UPI Audio Network, the first wire service radio network. In 1960, subsidiaries included UFS, United Press Movietone, a television film service that was operated jointly with 20th Century Fox, the British United Press and Ocean Press.
The Associated Press - AP - was a publishers' cooperative and could assess its members to help pay for extraordinary coverage of such events as wars, the Olympic Games, or national political conventions. UPI clients, in contrast, paid a fixed annual rate; depending on individual contracts, UPI could not always ask them to help shoulder the extraordinary coverage costs. Newspapers typically paid UPI about half what they paid AP in the same cities for the same services: At one point, for example, the Chicago Sun-Times paid AP $12,500 a week, but UPI only $5,000; the Wall Street Journal paid AP $36,000 a week, but UPI only $19,300.
UPI was hurt by changes in the modern news business, including the closing of many of America's afternoon newspapers, resulting in its customer base shrinking. It went through seven owners between 1992 and 2000. UPI's end as a truly viable news service occurred in 1999 when its remaining contracts were sold to its one-time rival - AP.
We even have to utilize the media for the sake of church development. The church is the mind and the media is the body, to reach the external world. We should begin that movement and activity in the United States, because the Washington Times and UPI are headquartered there. Once we establish our organization in the United States, it can be expanded to the world without much alteration."[3 ]
After 57 years with UPI, its best-known reporter Helen Thomas resigned her position as UPI's chief White House correspondent in May 2000, the day after it was acquired by News World. Since the resignation of Thomas, UPI for the first time does not have a reporter in the White House press corps.
In 2004, UPI won the Clapper Award from the Senate Press Gallery and the Fourth Estate Award for its investigative reporting on the dilapidated hospitals awaiting wounded U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq.
By 2007, UPI, which once had 6000 employees in 223 news and picture bureaus around the world, thousands of nonstaff “stringers,” and 7,500 customers in 100 countries, had fewer than 50 employees. In August 2007, the company reduced that number further, and currently has only five reporters in its Washington D. C. headquarters. Several dozen stringers still file regular reports from key regions of the world. More than a dozen editors are stationed in various cities in the United States and elsewhere.
United Press editor Lucien Carr, whose roommate Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on a continuous roll of UP teletype paper, once said: "UP's great virtue was that we were the little guy [that] could screw the AP."
News people who worked for UPI are nicknamed "Unipressers". Famous Unipressers from UPI's past include journalists and reporters Oscar Fraley, Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Howard K. Smith, Eric Sevareid, Helen Thomas, Pye Chamberlayne, Frank Bartholomew, technology journalist Gene J. Koprowski, Paul Eve who was the the lynchpin of BUP,the British arm of UPI from 1946 to 11060 and UPI Paris Bureau Chief from 1960 to 1966, Hugh Baillie, Vernon Scott, Chauncey Bailey, Robert H Tanji (Tokyo journalist/editor murdered on the job), William L. Shirer (who is best remembered today for writing The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich), The New York Times's Thomas Friedman, The Times of London's Marie Colvin, and Myram Borders, longtime reporter and chief of the Las Vegas bureau for nearly 25 years (and who broke numerous stories, including Elvis Presley's marriage to Priscilla as the wedding was in progress).
UPI photographers saw their work published in hundreds of publications worldwide, including Life, Look, and other magazines, as well as newspapers in the United States. Under their work, the only credit line was "UPI". Not until after the 1970s, when their names began appearing under their pictures, did a number of UPI's photographers achieve celebrity within the journalism community. UPI photographers who won Pulitzer Prizes include Andrew Lopez (1960), Kyoichi Sawada (1966), Toshio Sakai (1968) and David Hume Kennerly (1972). Tom Gralish won a Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 1986 after leaving UPI for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Dirck Halstead founded "The Digital Journalist".
Books about UPI include Joe Alex Morris's Deadline Every Minute (1957), Gregory Gordon and Ronald E. Cohen's Down To The Wire (1990); Richard M. Hartnett and Billy G. Ferguson's Unipress (2003), and Gary Haynes's Picture This: The Inside Story of UPI Newspictures (2006) with a foreword by former Unipresser Walter Cronkite. Well-known photographers from UPI include Joe Marquette, Darryl Heikes, Carlos Shiebeck, David Hume Kennerly, Ernie Schwork, James Atherton, James Smestad, Tom Gralish, and Bill Snead.
Richard Harnett, who spent more than 30 years at UPI and later started a UPI-related newsletter ("-95-") and listserv ("The Downhold Wire"), recalled what is often considered its greatest achievement: Merriman Smith's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of John F. Kennedy's assassination. "Smith was in the press car...When he heard shots, he called in to the Dallas office and sent a flash bulletin," Harnett says. "The AP reporter started pounding on his shoulder to get to the phone, but Merriman kept it from him."
Nine staffers have won eight Pulitzer Prizes while working for UPI: Russell Jones (International Reporting, 1957), Andrew Lopez (News Photography, 1960), Yasushi Nagao (News Photography, 1961), Merriman Smith (National Reporting, 1964), Kyoichi Sawada (News Photography, 1966), Toshio Sakai (Feature Photography, 1968), Lucinda Franks and Thomas Powers (National Reporting, 1971), and David Hume Kennerly (Feature Photography, 1972).
Arnaud de Borchgrave, Newsweek's chief foreign correspondent for 25 years, covering more than 90 countries and 17 wars, is currently UPI Editor-at-Large. He began his journalistic career at United Press in 1946.
UPI also employs columnists, whose articles are sent to international papers and agencies. Current UPI columnists include, amongst others:
U.S. employees of UPI are represented by the News Media Guild.