Sunday, November 18, 2007

Apparently I Am to Blame

That's right. We need more media consolidation, because people hate media consolidation, and now choose to get their news off blogs, podcasts, online video sharing sites, and other sources from distributed networks. Regular audience members are rejecting the offerings of the infotainment monopolies, so we should make sure that they have even less choice in their local media markets.

That's essentially the argument of boyish Bush-appointed FCC chairman Kevin Martin who has proposed a major Revision of Cross-Ownership Rules. He wants to see local newspapers able to own local television stations, although in practice the reverse will likely be the most common case, in order to save the newspaper industry from evil-doers like me.

If we don’t act to improve the health of the newspaper industry, we will see newspapers wither and die. Without newspapers, we would be less informed about our communities and have fewer outlets for the expression of independent thinking and a diversity of viewpoints. The challenge is to restore the viability of newspapers while preserving the core values of a diversity of voices and a commitment to localism in the media marketplace.

It's an utterly illogical argument, of course. When done well, online news sites from papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post have seen their circulations rise and their costs drop when bloggers cite their stories on the web. Of course, my once-beloved Los Angeles Times is a basket case, but they aren't taking my good advice, so it is really their own fault.

And it certainly won't make newspapers any better when their content is driven even more by the pitbull-bites-man-during-high-speed-chase news determined by the B-roll that currently dominates local television news. If the rules are revised, I think you'll see less investigative journalism, fewer muti-installment in-depth stories, and a general discouragement of some of the thoughtful blogging and vlogging that newspaper reporters are experimenting with in favor of jokey round-the-anchor-desk fatuousness.

What is interesting about Martin's push for a rules change is that he acknowledges that this will be an unpopular proposal, which is something that policy makers rarely do.

I confess that in my public role, I feel that the press is not on my side. But it is for this very reason that I believe this controversial step is worth taking. In their role as watchdog and informer of the citizenry, newspapers are crucial to our democracy.

Unfortunately, the lessons about the hard-won legal victories associated with The Prometheus Radio Project may soon be forgotten. Luckily, the formal Reply by Commissioners to Chairman on the FCC website indicates that Martin may not get his way too easily.

(Thanks to striking show-runner and former law student Chip Johannessen for his contributions to my thinking about this issue.)

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