It’s ironic that The Nation should come out with its perennial screed against big-media, cross-media conglomeration (complete with obscene centerfold) at the same time that Tribune Company — the grandfathered forefather of local cross-media newspaper-TV-radio-cable-magazine-online-entertainment hegemony — is threatened with breakup, like Knight Ridder before it, because a warring stockholder says that synergy just isn’t working.
Folks, in the age of small, it’s bad to be big.
Hell, even Markos isn’t worried about big media.
The media landscape is changing dramatically, seemingly on a daily basis, and what we once considered serious dangers to our democracy–things like media consolidation and the absence of balance and fairness–will become increasingly less important. We are at the beginning of the age of citizen media, where corporations can own vast, billion-dollar media outlets yet fail to control the flow and content of information. It’s quite hard to be a media gatekeeper when everyone becomes media, and that’s what we’re seeing happen in the age of blogs, wikis, social networking sites, podcasting, vlogging, message boards, e-mail groups and whatever wonderful communication technologies emerge tomorrow. Consolidation isn’t saving newspaper circulation numbers.
: LATER: Matthew Yglesias does the better analysis (of course):
Media concentration is, I’m afraid, one of those progressive causes I’ve never been able to get unduly worked up about. Whenever this comes up, I think back to years and years ago when I was living at home and my parents subscribed to The Nation. They printed this big chart showing how concentrated the media was in the hands of a few corporations. Or, at least, that’s what it was supposed to show. I recall having thought that the chart actually showed Big Media to be relatively diffuse, all things considered. . . .
As they’re saying-but-not-saying here [in the current Nation chart], the media’s become less concentrated. They’re up to six giants from just four — General Electric, Disney, Time Warner, CBS (which I believe is the successor to Westinghouse), plus new entrants Fox, and Viacom. So that’s six.
Six is a reasonably small number, but compared to what? What do the top six American car companies control? Oh, right, there are only two. And only two operating system makers. And so on and so forth. The tendency in any field would be for the top six firms to control a large portion of the aggregate.
What’s more, the curious thing about these six media monopolists is that between them they control zero of America’s most-influential newspapers. . . .
On top of all that, you need to consider the existence of NPR and PBS. . . .
On top of all this, the Internet is greatly enhancing peoples’ range of options. Actual “new media” — blogs, etc. — play a relatively small role in this. The main thing is that, unlike it past eras, it’s now really, really easy for somebody living in St. Louis to read The Los Angeles Times or The Boston Globe or, for that matter, The Guardian or The Independent if they’re interested in a different perspective on world or national affairs. In the more strictly entertainment sectors of the media, thanks to the iTunes Music Store and EMusic and Netflix and digital cable, it’s never been easier — especially for people living outside major cultural centers — to find an independent album or movie.
This is getting very longwinded. But suffice it to say that while I have major — major — complaints with the reality of most media content, I don’t find it especially plausible to attribute these problems to overconcentration. The media business doesn’t seem especially concentrated and it’s becoming less rather than more concentrated.
[Hat tip: Robert Feinman in the comments]