Who’s afraid of the big, bad media?

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.

It’s actually kind of sad to see writers at The Nation still trying to get up a good fret over media monstrosity. [via InOpinion]

: 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]

  • Jimmy

    If there was ever a magazine lost in the past it’s The Nation — along with its Conservative counterpart, The National Review.

  • I think the real issue is the spectrum of opinion that is available to the public. Most people get their current events information via TV (and perhaps radio). There is also the 30% of so who still read newspapers.

    All of these “big” media are members of the industrialized sector and tend to have interests which coincide with the rest of big business.

    The alternate points of view are restricted to small magazines like The Nation (about 80,000 circulation), liberal blogs and a handful of leftwing talk radio stations. To give some examples of how this affects public perception:

    The Dixie Chicks have a number one new CD, but it doesn’t get air play which is controlled by the likes of Infinity and Clear Channel.

    Labor issues get little notice. Today two labor items were reported (one by the NY Times, it’s true), hotel workers in NY and cleaners at a the University of Miami won battles. It will be interesting to see how much broadcast reporting either of these get.

    Groups who oppose the conventional market economy are not heard in public forums. The greens, socialists, war resistors, etc. get no air time. Even Ralph Nader was excluded from the Presidential debates.

    News of corporate misbehavior is only covered to the extent that there is criminal action involved. So Enron is covered, but the complex issues of expensing stock options to CEO’s are not.

    So far the blogosphere and other “new media” don’t have enough reach to counter the big business, status quo framework. Perhaps they will in the future, but that is what the Nation was trying to highlight. The fact that they equate this with size is a rhetorical shortcut.

  • You might be interested in a similar discussion going on at TPMcafe:

    How Concentrated is the Media?

  • Kat

    {The Dixie Chicks have a number one new CD, but it doesn’t get air play which is controlled by the likes of Infinity and Clear Channel.)
    The Dixie Chicks are also contemplating cancelling a number of concerts because of dismissal ticket sales and moving more shows to Canada. It is people and not big business running the show, so to speak.