A heartfelt take on two heartland dailies that (following a lengthy battle for local dominance) joined forces after a fashion; by a Detroit News journalist who covered the twisty story's denouement and understands its varied implications. Gruley first provides background on a once-vigorous rivalry between his publication (an afternoon paper) and the Free Press (Motown's morning sheet). While previously profitable, he notes, both began losing big money during the 1980's due to a combination of socioeconomic developments. A 1985 takeover of the News by Gannett (the largest newspaper chain in the US) led to the negotiation of a joint-operating agency (JOA) with the hated Free Press (owned by Knight-Ridder, another fourth-estate colossus). Under terms of such accords, same-city newspapers are allowed to amalgamate their advertising, circulation, production, and allied activities while maintaining separate editorial staffs. By federal law, however, JOAs (which investors favor for their capacity to improve income statements) must be endorsed by the Justice Department--and, after a good deal of acrimonious debate, Attorney General Edwin Meese III approved the News/Free Press agreement. But unions and public-interest groups opposed the limited get-together right up through the Supreme Court, where, in late 1989, they lost their case on a four-to-four vote. Gruley offers tellingly detailed accounts of the roles played by high-profile participants (Clark Clifford, Jack Kent Cooke, Norman Lear, Ralph Nader, Al Neuharth, et al.) and a host of lesser lights in what amounted to a high- stakes game of chicken. He also does a good job of reckoning the costs, concluding that Detroit would have been better served if the market had been left to decide which paper was fittest to survive. In the wake of the protracted, enervating struggle, Gruley observes, neither paper is equipped to compete with, let alone best, rival media. An informative rundown on an encounter that could prove a watershed in the evolution (or devolution) of America's metropolitan dailies.