Think Media Consolidation Is Good for Journalism? Think Again
Think Media Consolidation Is Good for Journalism? Think Again
By Free Press / freepress.net

The Federal Communications Commission is pushing a plan to gut its 30-year-old newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban. This proposal would allow one company to own a local paper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in a single market. Advocates of more media consolidation argue that allowing TV stations and newspapers to merge is critical to cutting costs and saving local journalism.

This is the same argument the Bush FCC used to try to push through the same bad rules in 2007. Back then, the Senate voted the rules down and the courts later threw them out. It’s time to put this argument to bed for good: More media consolidation won’t save journalism.

Banks have toxic assets. Journalism has media consolidation.

When we think about the state of journalism today, let’s not forget that media consolidation is largely what got us into this mess in the first place. Newspapers and TV stations have long been hugely profitable enterprises — and many still are.

Rick Edmonds at Poynter recently highlighted the fact that 2012 was a good year for newspaper stocks. Indeed, the top publicly traded newspaper companies remain quite profitable. In 2011, the McClatchy Company enjoyed 27 percent profit margins, Lee Enterprises had 24 percent profit margins and the Gannett Company’s profits were at 22 percent.

This sounds good, but not that long ago many media companies reported 30 or 40 percent profits. But instead of investing in their product during those flush times — hiring more journalists, diving head-first into the Web — most companies went on a buying spree. The biggest news organizations in the country got over-leveraged with debt as they gobbled up competitors.

Ad revenue eroded as a result of the economic downturn and the media companies’ failure to invest resources online. These companies could have weathered all of this if they weren’t also drowning in debt.

As media companies are bought and sold, as they go bankrupt and get traded by private equity firms, the people who get hurt are journalists and communities. Journalists lose their contracts or their jobs and communities are left with newspapers whose revenues are used only to pay off debt.

More media consolidation will only make the situation worse.

Letting one company own both a newspaper and broadcast stations in the same market isn’t just bad for the community; it’s also bad business. Cross-ownership doesn’t save anything; it simply drags down the performance of both broadcasting and print operations.

Media General was once one of the biggest advocates for gutting the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban, but the company is silent on the issue now. In fact, over the course of 2012 Media General broke up its four cross-owned properties. Similarly, Belo Corp. spun off its broadcasting and newspaper operations. Margins at both then improved, with the newspaper’s profit margin doubling.

The Tribune Company has cross-owned print/broadcast holdings in five cities around the U.S. The company just emerged from the largest bankruptcy in media history and plans to unbundle its cross-owned properties.

The only company actively lobbying the FCC to weaken the cross-ownership rules is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which sent representatives to meetings with the FCC chairman’s office just last month. That may be why the FCC proposal looks like such a plum handout to Murdoch, who wants to buy the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune — but can’t unless the agency changes its cross-ownership rules.

Media consolidation leads to less local news.

Here at Free Press, we’re concerned as anyone about the future of journalism. We need a system where communities have access to a full range of news and information, where diverse perspectives are part of the national debate, where journalists make a living wage and are protected enough to hold power to account.

However, relaxing the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban will move us in exactly the wrong direction. While the FCC’s 2007 studies indicated that cross-ownership leads to increased news production at the cross-owned station, that finding was later debunked in peer reviews. It turns out the FCC was counting sports and weather segments in its calculations. Those categories aside, cross-owned stations actually aired less hard news than non-cross-owned stations.

In addition, if you look beyond the one station and take into account the entire region being served by local TV and newspapers, both FCC data and outside studies indicate that cross-ownership leads to less total news produced locally. Cross-ownership crowds out the competition. The presence of a cross-owned station leads other stations in a market to collectively curtail their news output by about 25 percent.

The FCC’s plan to relax the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban will lead to more absentee landlords controlling our nation’s public airwaves, and it will hurt media diversity. The same old media consolidation policies are not a solution for the new challenges (or opportunities) facing journalism today.

Original photo by Flickr user Inju


If you care about fighting media consolidation, please consider a donation to the Free Press Action Fund.

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 27,915 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 14,727 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 14,588 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 14,444 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 11,322 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
Forest Man
16 min · 9,627 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 6,816 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 5,001 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 4,930 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 4,649 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence-And Devastate the Left
Arun Gupta · 4,558 views today · The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.
The International Criminal Court May Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Tara Smith · 3,726 views today · The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But...
American Cartel: How America's Two Major Parties Helped Destroy Democracy
Frank Castro · 3,512 views today · Cartel: An association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 3,324 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 2,757 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Humanity's Greatest Challenges Aren't Technical, They're Human
8 min · 2,380 views today · Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is incomplete as we commonly know it. Later in his life, Maslow wrote about a stage beyond self-actualization. Nichol Brandford explains how to...
A Woman Who Makes This Statement Today Needs Revolutionary Courage
Sabine Lichtenfels · 2,365 views today · I want to live in a community with men and women, with children, animals and plants so that I am not continually forced to hide my actual being from the others. Perception and...
Do You Have Time to Love?
Thich Nhat Hanh · 2,261 views today · The greatest gift you can offer loved ones is your true presence.
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 2,037 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
“You Can Have Your Weak Nominee If You Wish” – the Sanders Endorsement Backfires on Hillary Clinton, Empowers Sanders in One Masterstroke
Saib Bilaval · 2,035 views today · Ultimately, what the Sanders endorsement has proved is what the candidate was arguing from the beginning – that it was not Sanders and his campaign that was holding Hillary...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Think Media Consolidation Is Good for Journalism? Think Again