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August 31, 2006 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Wired thinks it’s time to talk about how media consolidation affects freedom of the press in America. Al Gore seems to think it's a problem almost as serious as Global Warming (and in some ways, a closely related one). So just who does own the media these days? Maybe it’s time for a return to the days when we expected a little more fairness in our news coverage.
posted by saulgoodman (73 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Nation's Big Ten list is from 2002, and I'm not sure how much else has changed, but the Sony and BMG music companies merged in 2004. Is there an up to date list? I'd love to see what's shifted in just a few years. At the rate things are going it's all going to be funneled through one giant company some day.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:40 PM on August 31, 2006


The "who" link (The Big Ten) is a great compiler, but is there anything more recent? I'd love an easy-access straight-up list of who owns what, and maybe the associations & integrations of tv sponsors/commercials/outlets/services/etc will become clear on a moment-of-exposure basis.
posted by blastrid at 12:48 PM on August 31, 2006


On the one hand I see media consolidation, on the other hand I see sites like Metafilter, Digg, and Youtube, which have the power to deliver media that in the past would've remained utterly obscure, and elevate it to something important and well-known. Also seeing the explosion on one-person-media that was impossible before.

Overall I think the one thing lagging is people's understanding of new media. The distrust of it is certainly fostered by some of those employed by mainstream media, as they are unsure of where their future lies. Once the mainstream reader gets more understanding of how to read blogs and how to use sites like Metafilter and Digg, we will see that media consolidation was just a natural response to the disruption of the old way news was consumed, created, and paid for.
posted by cell divide at 12:49 PM on August 31, 2006


Had trouble finding more recent info initially--here's something... Interestingly, the language being used nowadays seems to be "the Big Eight," if that says anything.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:49 PM on August 31, 2006


I think it's time for a return to the good old days. The good old days before Pulitzer when bias was the whole, out-in-front point of the media.
posted by Captaintripps at 12:52 PM on August 31, 2006


fear not. unbiased, informative journalism shall surely trickle down.
posted by quonsar at 12:56 PM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think it's time for a return to the good old days. The good old days before Pulitzer when bias was the whole, out-in-front point of the media.

okay, it looks like we've got that again, it still sucks, so now what?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:59 PM on August 31, 2006


This link might help:

Who Owns What. It's a list of what major media companies own put out by the columbia journalism review, and it looks like it gets updated pretty frequently. Click on a corporation name to see what they own, categorized by medium.
posted by kosher_jenny at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2006


On the one hand I see media consolidation, on the other hand I see sites like Metafilter, Digg, and Youtube, which have the power to deliver media that in the past would've remained utterly obscure, and elevate it to something important and well-known.

There's always a yes, but with those kinds of statements, isn't there?

Yes, but, there are millions upon millions of poor people in this country who do not have computers. Yes, but, there are millions upon millions of not-quite-so-poor people in this country who have computers but don't know how to use them for anything but forwarding emails that promise good luck if you send them to five friends.

I do not debate that MeFi, Digg, YouTube, et. al. are important; they are, and I'm glad they're around. I do, however, seriously question the reach of any of them, as far as "having power" or influencing and/or changing the opinions of a majority of the country.
posted by pdb at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2006


saulgoodman: No, now we don't have that again. Now we get obfuscation about bias.
posted by Captaintripps at 1:10 PM on August 31, 2006


Now we get obfuscation about bias.

Yeah, but it's usually such transparent obfuscation. Point taken, though.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:12 PM on August 31, 2006


So, what's really the problem here? Is there any actual smoking-gun evidence of a case where The Man has killed a story for political/business reasons? This dog won't hunt unless you get a recording of Rupert Murdoch saying, "Don't let story X run, because it might harm Business Y's stock price."

Otherwise, concerns about media consolidation are a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Media consolidation was worse in the 50s when there were only three television networks. Nobody complained then.

One one side, you see accusations of "left-wing media bias." On the other, you see accusations of "right-wing business squelching voices."

They can't both be true.
posted by frogan at 1:18 PM on August 31, 2006


what I miss is the ideal of objectivity in reportage. the strawman of hyper-relativism and post-modernism that used to be so universally reviled by the political right seems to have subtlely won them over somewhere along the way. now it's like no one really believes in objective reality anymore, and everyone believes reality is just manufactured by consent or some such non-sense.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:19 PM on August 31, 2006


frogan: hnngh? the discussion here isn't so much about intentional squelching of facts as the narrowness of viewpoint resulting from a systemic lack of healthy competition (although i can't really believe you haven't heard any of the gazillions of stories that do strongly suggest more blatant tampering with the facts by now). but whatever.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:23 PM on August 31, 2006


New media outlets/services like Blogs, Metafilter, Digg are not primary News reporting and are barely Journalism - not to get bogged down in semantics here.

Primary sourcing of news and original content development, is an expensive, capital intensive, time consuming enterprises, exceptionally well-suited for large corporations, er, except for the problems discussed above.

Blogs and other new media have a role to play, but do little to actually frame the debate. Why is war in Iraq a major world-wide news story, and not the plight in Darfur or gloabal warming? Big8 media attention. (I know its a simplistic argument)

I've seen arguments that corporate consolidation of news media was a prime debunker of the thought that the media was inherently 'liberal' and seen other studies that argued the opposite. I'd be interested to hear others thoughts on this.
posted by sfts2 at 1:25 PM on August 31, 2006


frogan,

Your point about 3 networks in the 50s is true enough, but remember, at that time TV was not the prime media through which people (Americans) got their news - it was much more through local newspapers, which were incredibly fragmented and competitive and they have consolidated to a tremendous degree.
posted by sfts2 at 1:33 PM on August 31, 2006


Once the mainstream reader gets more understanding of how to read blogs and how to use sites like Metafilter and Digg, we will see that media consolidation was just a natural response to the disruption of the old way news was consumed, created, and paid for.

Not really. The current trend of media consolidation was noticed as a problem when I was in journalism school in the early '90s with the observation that few markets had access to more than one newspaper and most local papers were not locally owned. Basically, we are seeing the endgame of a process that started when Pulitzer and Hearst started grabbing newspapers, and accelerated with deregulation in the 80s.

I don't think that sites like MeFi or Digg are really that much of an answer to the problem. I should probably do an analysis here but I suspect that Zipf's law applies to linked sites on Mefi with a few sites (such as Wikipedia, google and the NYT) driving a majority of content. Or to put it another way, big media companies own a large mindshare of MeFi and Digg, including this post which links to Wired (a conde nast property), and an AP story on the Mercury News (owned by MediaNews).
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:38 PM on August 31, 2006


stfs2: all i know is more and more it seems like every news outlet carries the same stories, and more or less tells them the same way--and the vast majority of what's reported isn't fact-based at all, but more oriented toward entertaining people or selling things (like cellphones and foreign policies). and imo, it would be nice if that changed.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:42 PM on August 31, 2006


The Fairness Doctrine needs to come back, but it'd be more helpful if the press went back to doing their jobs.

Some of them -- the NYT and Washington Post especially -- need to be taught what their journalism and reporting actually is-- this is really typical and pathetic that it was needed at all -- WaPo chat last week :... --Complicity or stenography:
Jonathan Weisman: If I can get him on the phone, I will query him. Cheney's statements present a quandary for us reporters. Sometimes we write them up and are accused of being White House stenographers and stooges for repeating them. Then if we don't write them up, we are accused of being complicit for covering them up. So, all you folks on the left, what'll it be? Complicity or stenography?
...
Complicity or stenography: Oh Please. Care to explain how catching the VP in a fairly obvious lie and calling him on it means either.
Okay, since this seems beyond you, I'll explain your job.
1. Typing up the tale of the VP's "harrowing choice" without having verified the timeline (what did happen already) = "Stenography".
2. Deciding not to call the VP on it, once outsiders have spoon fed you the timeline = "Complicity".
3. Contacting the VP, having carefully researched the timeline and questioning how his story applied when he had, according to his own later statementments and those of other Admin officials less than 60 seconds notice = "Good Reporting".
You see, it's that funny research and intelligent questions based on said research that makes up "Reporting". Retyping statements without research is "Stenography". Avoiding asking tough questions because it makes your original stenography look really, really bad is "Complicity". ...

posted by amberglow at 1:45 PM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]


where does wired parent company conde nast fit in with this?
posted by empath at 1:46 PM on August 31, 2006


So, what's really the problem here?

How about loaded words on the 'defining the problem'? Or bias in creating the argument?

Is there any actual smoking-gun evidence of a case where The Man has killed a story for political/business reasons?

Like court cases?

Ok, how about the BGH milk story?
http://www.projectcensored.org/publications/2005/11.html


This dog won't hunt unless you get a recording of Rupert Murdoch saying, "Don't let story X run, because it might harm Business Y's stock price."

Oh. I see. So for YOU the acceptible level of proof is a recording. How very loaded and biased of you.

Otherwise, concerns about media consolidation are a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Loading and bias on your part.

Media consolidation was worse in the 50s when there were only three television networks. Nobody complained then.

Really? GE owning NBC was griped about alot. Oh wait... again your bias shows with the loaded bracket of 1950-1959.

The consolidation issue is one of the 1990's and 2000's because the laws changed VS the 1950's.

So to claim the past shows there is no problem shows a bias and loading issue also.

One one side, you see accusations of "left-wing media bias."

Another loaded and bias.

On the other, you see accusations of "right-wing business squelching voices."

Look, more bias and loading on your defining.

They can't both be true.
posted by frogan at 1:18 PM PST


And that is because the world is black and white, one or the other? Such a worldview is loaded and biased also.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:49 PM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]


How about loaded words on the 'defining the problem'?

LOL ... wow

/wipes tears of laughter from eye

I'm sorry, so there isn't a problem? So what exactly is the complaint?

Nevermind, carry on.
posted by frogan at 1:53 PM on August 31, 2006


where does wired parent company conde nast fit in with this?

Wired's grand-parent company is Advance Publications, which owns about 30 daily newspapers, about as many magazines, 2 cable network services, and two 'news services'.
posted by blastrid at 1:56 PM on August 31, 2006


I don't think you could be more right. While the internet enables niche analysis and opinion, which is a good thing - access to many and varied ideas, it has only had minimal effect on the capture and distribution of news on the ground. You could envision leveraging internet technologies to facilitate the primary news capture, and then you might be well on your way to solving the homogenization of news media. A YouTube/Blog mashup but it would need a mechanism to ensure credibility and quality. Thats one thing the 'corporate' model supposedly had in the past - when Edward R Murrow was reporting for CBS News - you knew it was true (even if it wasn't) - or so my parents tell me.

The permeation of news with advertising and the profit motive is definitely a major impediment - although I am not sure I want the government controlling it.
posted by sfts2 at 1:58 PM on August 31, 2006


I'm sorry, so there isn't a problem
posted by frogan at 1:53 PM PST


Only in your world mate.

Nevermind, carry on.

*waves bye*
posted by rough ashlar at 2:03 PM on August 31, 2006


Rough Ashlar, are you implying that frogan's comment contained loading and bias?
posted by Espy Gillespie at 2:03 PM on August 31, 2006


very interesting thing about SF's media : Newspaper Coverage in the Bay Area is Shrinking
posted by amberglow at 2:03 PM on August 31, 2006


tsk tsk. Ahem, Espy, your comment contains much "loading and bias."
posted by blastrid at 2:06 PM on August 31, 2006


Question: How many people reading this thread actually subscribe to a local newspaper? How can we expect more coverage and better coverage if we don't actively consume and support the media we're complaining about? Newspapers are dying because people don't read them.

How can we have unbiased independent journalism if no one wants to pay for it?
posted by zabuni at 2:14 PM on August 31, 2006


*waves bye*
posted by rough ashlar


/me waves back and says, "Enjoy your fantasy world full of evil corporate nasties and ivory-tower intellectuals claiming bias about this, that and the other thing. I'm off to live in the Real World. Come visit us some time, 'kay?"

LOL
posted by frogan at 2:26 PM on August 31, 2006


Heavily consolidated and controlled media is a grand American tradition that'll never change. People should probably just give up any hope of ever seeing real diversity in the media. Instead, if people really are so desperate for a multitude of news providers then the market will eventually meet this demand. I'd focus on building new providers from the ground up instead of trying to get the behemoths to change their ways.
posted by nixerman at 2:30 PM on August 31, 2006


How can we expect more coverage and better coverage if we don't actively consume and support the media we're complaining about?
I don't know if throwing money at Gannett Company (the largest newspaper publisher and owner of 23 TV stations) is going to change the bias of my "local" newspaper.

Newspapers are dying because people don't read them.

I don't read the newspaper because I read the internet, and I don't have to waste paper to read the internet. Newspapers are dying because they're obsolete.

How can we have unbiased independent journalism if no one wants to pay for it?
You're insinuating that the last frontier of unbiased media would be retained through newspapers?
posted by blastrid at 2:31 PM on August 31, 2006


There is plenty of money to be made in reporting the news, and coming up with the best news. As those who attempt to disagree with me above put it, a large mindshare of MeFi and Digg is devoted to mainstream media.

But that's part of the point-- that content is being judged on its interestingness, primacy, and important, not because it's a monopoly or duoply (as in many large cities when it comes to print newspapers, radio news, etc.). It's getting so much attention from MeFi and Digg because it's the best content, and it's up to the media companies to compete for that and to figure out how to profit from it. Furthermore, once it's up and becomes popular, it inspires others to comment, rebut, fact-check, etc. It's now much more powerful, if it withstands that process, then it was on its own as a major media property. And if it doesn't we all learn something in the process that would have been obscured before.
posted by cell divide at 2:43 PM on August 31, 2006


Frogan, I think the point is that it's not a liberal or conservative bias but a corporate bias. Bias doesn't have to mean what is said, it can also be what is not said and not criticized. There's no grand evil plot and conspiracy but subtle pushes in the selection of journalists, and a fear of scaring away advertisers. Most of the news you get is straight from the press releases given by the government, there's barely any criticism of anything.

Also like someone pointed out already, during the 50s printed media was still the way most people got their news.
posted by vodkadin at 2:49 PM on August 31, 2006


"Newspapers are dying because people don't read them.

How can we have unbiased independent journalism if no one wants to pay for it?"


Actually, newspapers are dying for a number of reasons - they're less timely and more resource-wasteful media than the web or tv, but more importantly, in most of the cities I've seen, they're just as homogenized as radio and tv are, being owned by big chains like Gannet or whoever, and doing very little original reportage, instead just running whatever watered down horseshit that comes off the AP wire.
posted by stenseng at 3:03 PM on August 31, 2006


I think the point is that it's not a liberal or conservative bias but a corporate bias.

And also how one opts to frame the argument and offer up a black/whice choice. A further example:

"ivory-tower intellectuals " is loaded, and offered up as the choice to "evil corporate nasties". Notice also how the biased subject ignores the Fox/BGH story because it doesn't agree with the position the subject is trying to project.

"There's no grand evil plot and conspiracy but subtle pushes in the selection of journalists, and a fear of scaring away advertisers."

A paycheck to cover a morgage is fine push-stick.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:06 PM on August 31, 2006


I had considered FPP-ing this, but The Nation (same people who did the "Big Ten" 4-and-a-half years ago) recently published "The National Entertainment State" which has some valuable "I didn't know THEY owned THAT" information, but is very incomplete, dropping half of the "Big Ten" including Sony and AT&T just because they don't own a broadcast network (while including Viacom which just split off network-owning CBS), and there are some rather dumb inclusions among some of the 'assets' (Disney OWNS "The Chronicles of Narnia"? Not quite.)
posted by wendell at 3:13 PM on August 31, 2006


frogan: The concerns about consolidation and bias are not just about some Snidley Whiplash black suit that cackles with glee and gets on the phone to squash a story (although that does occasionally happen). The general effects are more subtle.

In terms of consolidation of local media, what frequently happens is that there is strong pressure to downsize local newsrooms and fill with wire stories. As a result, investigative reporting of local business and politics sometimes suffers. Local politics can have a profound effect on the everyday lives of ordinary people.

Another issue that comes up is conflict of interest. So as an example, there were concerns in the early 90s that CBS and NBC were spinning stories about nuclear energy safety to avoid threatening the corporate interests of parent companies Westinghouse and GE. This doesn't mean that a negative story is going to get killed outright, but there might be pressure to lean the story in a different way, or give the story less airtime than would normally be justified.

blastrid: Newspapers are dying because they're obsolete.

In terms of distribution, perhaps. My concern is that the "new media" hasn't been picking up on services that are provided by newspapers. You don't see bloggers sit through hours of public meetings to follow the development plans of a large grocery store on the south side of town for example.

cell divide: It's getting so much attention from MeFi and Digg because it's the best content, and it's up to the media companies to compete for that and to figure out how to profit from it. Furthermore, once it's up and becomes popular, it inspires others to comment, rebut, fact-check, etc.

Ohh, I don't know about that. Frequently what gets posted to MeFi and Digg (and what gets the most comments on MeFi and Digg) is not the best content, but content that is most entertaining or amusing. The commentary is also not that great, with lots of speculation and very rare fact checking. Often, the stupidity of the crowds here just vomits up the same old myths repeatedly. (A personal pet peve of mine is the perpetual misunderstanding of sample size.)

Now certainly, a community of people that talk about the news is more powerful than a community of people who just read/watch the news. This is true whether we are talking about MeFi, a bar, a barbershop, or a kitchen table. But that is just a bandaid on the core problem.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:13 PM on August 31, 2006


zabuni wrote:Question: How many people reading this thread actually subscribe to a local newspaper?

I do. Not that it really matters, since our only local paper is owned by Gannett, the same folks who produce USA Today.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:19 PM on August 31, 2006


"Wired thinks it’s time to talk about how media consolidation affects freedom of the press in America."

It was time to talk about it in the 90s. It was time to do something about it soon after that.

As several of you point out above, the effect of consolidation on quality, diversity and objectivity of news is less about particular stories being suppressed - it's more about what gets investigated, reported and published, and with what kind of spin, and what doesn't get investigated, reported or published at all. The fact that the ongoing consolidation itself has been mostly absent from the news is a clear demonstration of the problem.

It's just part of a larger problem though. Political leaders need favorable press to get elected or stay in office, and therefore cannot do anything adverse to the media bosses. Those in policy making positions, aligned with corporate interests, perceive that it's much easier to keep the population ignorant, complacent or fearful, and mentally in line with the official versions of world events, if the press is dominated by a few big corporations. Accordingly they have permitted consolidation.

How to change any of this? What's needed are ownership limits, but the real question is how to get anything enacted for the benefit of the public rather than businesses. I really don't see any way that can happen in the existing system. I believe it would require a revolutionary change in the form of government.
posted by jam_pony at 3:50 PM on August 31, 2006


Press Links. Including graphic map of who owns what. self-link.
posted by exlotuseater at 3:57 PM on August 31, 2006


The fact that the ongoing consolidation itself has been mostly absent from the news is a clear demonstration of the problem.

This has the ring of the dog barking in the moonlight.

Now somebody show us an example where this has actually happened.

I don't mean something like, "Media X didn't cover story Y because we think something evil might be afoot."

I mean something like, "Media X didn't cover story Y because Editor Z said Corporate Suit A told him to specifically kill Story B because, despite Story B being totally true, it would specifically harm the bottom line of Company C."

I mean, that's really what we're saying, right? Media consolidation = rampant lies? So where's the evidence? Real Wooward-and-Bernstein level evidence, not some 'zine with half-baked rumors.

The reason there's no evidence? It's a dash of urban myth + media competition for eyeballs resulting in easy-to-digest feel-good stories.
posted by frogan at 5:29 PM on August 31, 2006


You people are all focusing on the wrong thing - cosoligdation is irrelevant, because editorial control is rarely, if ever, exercised in executive offices.

The problem is the never-ending quest for ratings in every medium. This is what is new. They weren't even measuring ratings in the early 50's, and when they did it was crude. Now, they have the ability to measure the ratings of commercials. Arbitron is testing sub-sonic coding so that you carry aroudn a small device and it will record if you stop to watch a commercial in a store window. This is a quantum leap in measuring viewing habits that has been demanded by the advertisers that pay the bills.

Compare Uk and US radio markets. They have how many natinoal news radio stations there? We have one - NPR, and a smattering of other alternative syndicated networks. We don't have Radio 4 because we have Howard Stern giving us strippers on the radio.

In TV, it's worse - you have cable news outfits fighting over tenths of points so they do things like MSNBC's monthly changing of celebrity infotainment in the evening to capture the 18-54 male demographic after it graduates from MTV and before it's sucked into ESPN or Comedy Central. This is why Fox does well, it tells its target audience what it wants to hear, and makes snide remarks about different opinions.

Do something about the incessant chasing of ratings to the lowest common denominator, and you'll be rid of the likes of Ann Coulter and the 24-7 human interest programming delivered by empty-headed ex-models before you know it.
posted by Pastabagel at 5:40 PM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]


frogan: I mean, that's really what we're saying, right? Media consolidation = rampant lies?

I don't know who is saying this.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:43 PM on August 31, 2006


I don't know who is saying this.

Uhh ... Second link in the original post?

Al Gore: "Democracy is under attack ... Questions of fact that are threatening to wealth and power become questions of power."

I'd, you know, like to see the evidence. I guess I'm just silly that way.

Biggest media threats to Bush? Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert would be on the list, I suppose. Certainly irony and sarcasm are the enemies of mindless boob-ery.

But to hear the ninnies say it, apparently Messrs. Stewart and Colbert are ... what? Stalking horses for appealing to the uneducated masses? Tools of Comedy Central (owned by Viacom) for total Republican control? Big Brother's idiot nephews?

It just doesn't compute.
posted by frogan at 6:12 PM on August 31, 2006


It's been a lifetime (okay, 20 years) since I've read it but I seem to remember being introduced to the potential hazards of media consolidation in Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. I imagine it's still relevant.
posted by effwerd at 6:19 PM on August 31, 2006


But to hear the ninnies say it, apparently Messrs. Stewart and Colbert are ... what? Stalking horses for appealing to the uneducated masses? Tools of Comedy Central (owned by Viacom) for total Republican control? Big Brother's idiot nephews?

None of the above. Don't kid yourself that they wouldn't mock whatever administration held power, or that comedy central wouldn't find someone to mock democrats. The fact that they ridicule the administration means nothing - they dont know enough about the underlying issues to crtique the policies.

Postman's book (thanks effwerd, I couldn't remember who wrote it) makes about about the medium shaping the converstation, that television inherently has its form the way an essay or a novel has form. In television, the form is built around 90 seconds - you have 90 seconds to lose the viewer, so you have to deliver something in those 90 seconds that will keep them watching, a tease to something, some T&A, a punchline, explosion, car crash, celebrity, etc. That's not enough time for an informed debate. The closest thing we come to that is the McLaughlin Group - and that's a discussion among columnists, not experts. It's just inside baseball.

Remember that Foucault - Chomsky debate from dutch TV that was discussed here a few months ago? Do you think that would ever get played on television here?
posted by Pastabagel at 6:54 PM on August 31, 2006


frogan: if you're really interested in this topic, you might check out a site like this that's devoted to reporting on media abuses. I'm not going to go round and round with you about all the ommissions and spin found in most media coverage today; luckily, I don't have to. Most sensible people recognized it long ago for themselves, so your objections ring hollow enough to most people right out of the gate that there's not much point in debating them further. For what it's worth, I know from personal experience of cases in which interested parties intentionally manipulated the information stream, through various PR agencies, and the like. The fact of increased media consolidation just makes it that much easier to poison the stream, because everyone pretty much just unreflectively passes along the same bad information these days (hey--it beats working for a living, right?). If I thought you were genuinely interested in considering these issues fairly, I might bother to look up some specific recent examples, but it's kind of at the point of absurdity by now, and I'm sure you're clever enough to look into this stuff on your own if you're actually interested in considering the information that is available. Here's another link to information on this subject.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:10 PM on August 31, 2006


here frogan: you want a specific recent example of a big story largely ignored in the american press. here's one.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:19 PM on August 31, 2006



The bias in the mainstream media is a conventional wisdom bias, so the media appears tilted to the left when the left has power and to the right when the right has power and tilts sideways on issues that it views as "common sense" due to America's inability to look outside itself.

The other bias it has increasingly (and this is due to the self-magnifying and self-reinforcing effect of a conventional wisdom bias) is that people care only about personalities, not issues.

So Katrina coverage becomes a few anecdotes about storm survival stories and "How Will this Affect Bush's polling and the Republicans' chances for the Congressional elections."

Instead of looking at the policies and whether they are effective or ineffective, the press focuses incessantly on the "horse race" aspect of politics because it assumes the public will be bored with anything that requires any thought-- for example, health policy, the intricacies of the levies and the structural engineering issues around them, etc.

And yes, the press has bought both the worst of the right and left when it comes to the notion of truth: you get the post-modern critique that power creates reality being seen, not as a critique but as a way to enhance power and so the press plays "Bush said the sky is green" and "Kerry said the sky is blue" without mentioning that the sky actually is blue and thinks that is being "objective."

and this really sucks for a journalist like me because it means that getting stories into the press that defy conventional wisdom or focus on policy and ideas rather than who is up and who is down extremely difficult.

i write often about drug policy and it is extraordinarily difficult to get the actual science into print. people simply will not believe, for example, that most people who take opioids like Oxycontin are not addicts and never will be or that the relationship between crime and addiction is not a simple one of drugs-make-you-into a criminal or that the fact that some drugs are illegal and others are legal is a historical artifact and not based on objective risk analysis of the various dangers of the substances.

it's a kind of groupthink that leads to wide swings from one end of the spectrum to the other because everyone wants to be right about what everyone is thinking and no one wants to stand out too much.

so everyone thinks we have to be in Iraq until everyone decides that everyone else thinks we have to be out of Iraq and then we all think that.
posted by Maias at 7:27 PM on August 31, 2006 [3 favorites]


Don't worry, the bloggers will save us.
posted by nightchrome at 7:45 PM on August 31, 2006


hurray! another cynical snark at bloggers! (everytime a troll snarks, an angel gets its wings! and hell makes a little more room.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:51 PM on August 31, 2006


Metafilter: another cynical snark at bloggers!
posted by nightchrome at 7:54 PM on August 31, 2006


That Wired article is really funny if you read it carefully:

1. It claims that one of the problem is that there are not as many talented journalists today.

2. Claims that as a result of 9/11 that journalists are less likely to criticize the gov't.

and THEN goes to conclude that: "All legitimate news organizations would be licensed and subsidized by Uncle Sam.".

...which if implemented would increase the likelihood of journalists not criticizing the government ...yes, *all* news organizations would be under state control according to the writer....

and then looking at the rest of the article you see that indeed its content doesn't even match the depth of argument we see in this MeFi post...

and thus proving by his own example that his claim #1 is indeed sadly true.
posted by storybored at 8:19 PM on August 31, 2006


frogan is a troll, intentional or un, but spouting a very clever corporate line: that unlimited consolidation and profit-orientation in news must be allowed unless it is "proved" that it's harmful. Of course, the harm some of us are well aware of is pernicious in part precisely because it's usually too subtle and pervasive to be pinned down to specific incidents.

The frogan line assumes some sort of divine right of businesses to do whatever they want unless it is "proved" (to whose satisfaction?) to cause specific harms. It seems to me, however, that if policy is to protect the public it must sometimes place the burden of proof the other way.

Imagine an editor selecting stories. In a meeting his boss mentions that a particular advertiser is pleased or displeased. Next day, the editor sees a story, or a possibility of a story, that may be well-supported and which would harm that advertiser. Editor reduces the story length and buries it on a back page; or drops it, citing lack of space; or sends reporters to check on other things instead. He knows that if he runs it prominently, he'll miss a promotion or raise, or be replaced, or incur criticism (there is always something to criticize if you look for it).

Now, a froganite will say "Prove that this happens! Specifics please! Otherwise there's no problem!" But I suggest instead, the mere fact that the above is plausible, and circumstances (commercial motives, etc.) make it likely to occur undetectably, is all the argument that is needed to mandate dispersal of control of news media, and some sort of firewall between commercial operations and the newsroom. Corporations should be required to prove that the above scenario cannot easily happen to justify owning more than one news outlet. The obvious danger alone is enough of an argument.

Of course, this is utopianism. In USA today, corporations rule, and govenement is only a figurehead to conceal the fact from the masses.
posted by jam_pony at 8:23 PM on August 31, 2006 [2 favorites]


The problem with media control rests not just with corporate powerseeking but also the low standards of info-consumers. I stopped reading Wired magazine a few years ago. I'll flip through it if i have time, but rarely do I see anything interesting.

Vote with your dollars. Support good journalism. What are some examples of good media outfits that you can share?
posted by storybored at 8:24 PM on August 31, 2006


Remember that Foucault - Chomsky debate from dutch TV that was discussed here a few months ago? Do you think that would ever get played on television here?

Well, that's what public television is for. Or was. I think TV could be a lot more useful, it's just that it's ruled by commercial interests. But in theory, the medium has more usefulness than what we've gotten from it. With 500 channels on 24/7, there should be some place for long form, in-depth programming complete with context, reasoned analysis, and debate on a wide variety of subjects. It's just no one wants to pay for it.
posted by effwerd at 8:29 PM on August 31, 2006


there should be some place for long form, in-depth programming complete with context, reasoned analysis, and debate on a wide variety of subjects. It's just no one wants to pay for it.

Why is this? Is it because at the end of a long working day, most people just want to be entertained? The trouble is, in-depth contextual programming, with reasoned analysis and debate demands something from the viewer: Hard work.
posted by storybored at 8:35 PM on August 31, 2006


The problem is the never-ending quest for ratings in every medium.

and the other problem is that the american people in general have awful taste, don't want to think and prefer being lied to

from the article

Here's something else for the wish list, something we've never seen, or will see, until hell freezes over: Remove the profit motive from professional journalism. Newspapers, TV news departments, news radio and news websites are the tangible defenders of our free society. Something so vital to the safeguarding of our collective well-being should not be encumbered by the vulgar need to turn a profit.

So who pays?

The government pays, how about that? All legitimate news organizations would be licensed and subsidized by Uncle Sam.


oh, hell, no ... like the government couldn't possibly have an ulterior motive, decide that our society was too free or be run by vulgar people who want to turn a profit

the naivete of his proposed solution is pretty amazing
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 PM on August 31, 2006


here frogan: you want a specific recent example of a big story largely ignored in the american press. here's one.

You guys are still missing the point. There's a difference between "ignored by the press" and "deliberately withheld by the press because of money interests."

The former is an example of disinterest among readers -- yes, Americans don't generally care about softwoods trade. Most Americans couldn't tell you the difference between softwoods and a hole in the ground. Now, whether that's right or wrong is beside the point. But editors know there's a lack of interest and just keep showing pictures of Jon Benet Ramsey.

But the other argument -- deliberately withheld -- assumes malicious intent. And there is none. Unless someone can show it to me. Please.

Summing up ... don't swallow hyperbole and fear-mongering from EITHER side. Somebody up there said that it's common knowledge. Really? Is it? How common? To how many decimal places? It's attractive when someone tells you that a murky "them" is pulling the strings behind the scenes. But more often than not, there is no wizard behind the curtain. Ask for proof. Show me.

I have to laugh. I really do. It wasn't that long ago that people were taking record companies (owned by big media) to task over sexually explicit lyrics. Now a different group of people is accusing big media of exactly the opposite, of narrow-minded, conservative groupthink.

Imagine an editor selecting stories. In a meeting his boss mentions that a particular advertiser is pleased or displeased. Next day, the editor sees a story, or a possibility of a story, that may be well-supported and which would harm that advertiser. Editor reduces the story length and buries it on a back page

Having worked in many newspapers, all I can say is ... obviously you've never worked in one. Most newspaper editors would have a hard time pointing out the ad sales guys in a lineup. ;-)
posted by frogan at 10:10 PM on August 31, 2006


My hypothetical was totally made up and probably not realistic. But the reality is that news departments don't criticize their parent companies. They do parrot official sources that the parent companies are friendly with. They do put on press releases dressed up as news. They do cover celebrity "boobery" (great Mr. Burns word) in preference over important stories. The mere fact that the parent companies are of a size and power comparable to that of governments is cause enough for concern.

If people expect entertainment rather than information it's in part a consequence, rather than an excuse for the decline of news media. It also has to do with failure of education.

I'll stop ranting and go back to lurking, riffing and snarking now.
posted by jam_pony at 10:59 PM on August 31, 2006


CBS watered down their tobacco company expose out of fear of a giant lawsuit. CBS's parent company also had major holdings in the tobacco industry.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:10 AM on September 1, 2006


Is it because at the end of a long working day, most people just want to be entertained? The trouble is, in-depth contextual programming, with reasoned analysis and debate demands something from the viewer: Hard work.

Sure, a lot of folks like People Magazine for their entertainment, but some like Finnegan's Wake. So there is a market for exacting interests but the cost of production and distribution is more prohibitive for broadcasting. General interest, or lack thereof, is simply a part of the ROI equation. Which is why we have the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (in the US), so we can mute the influence of this equation and produce material unencumbered by commercial interests and focused on serving the social dialog.
posted by effwerd at 4:17 AM on September 1, 2006


Messrs. Stewart and Colbert........The fact that they ridicule the administration means nothing - they dont know enough about the underlying issues to crtique the policies.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:54 PM PST


VS the fine understanding of the underlying issues Ted Stevens showed us all with his internet comments? How about the understanding shown when the leadership votes on bills they have not read? Or signing statements of The President?

A rather strong claim on your part. Care to back it up and be sure to show how they have LESS understanding than the people they are poking fun at, m-kay?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:22 AM on September 1, 2006


But the other argument -- deliberately withheld -- assumes malicious intent. And there is none. Unless someone can show it to me. Please.
posted by frogan at 10:10 PM PST


Notice how it ignored the fox/bgh example.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:23 AM on September 1, 2006



There are actually numerous examples, big and small, of advertisers and corporate owners affecting content.

but the most common is self-censorship on the part of journalists or editors-- ie, either the editors don't buy or the writers don't pitch stories that are going to be problematic in that way.

so you're not going to see too many obvious and overt examples of the CBS/tobacco thing: instead, the censorship/avoidance happens long before the top people have to step in and look bad because the others, consciously or not, aren't going to propose those kinds of stories after a while because they keep getting rejected, though not on the grounds of "that would bother our advertisers/owners."

there are many, many amazing journalists out there-- it's just very, very hard to support yourself selling things that people don't want to buy. Fewer than 1% of freelancers manage to support themselves by writing; staff jobs on newspapers aren't the highest paying in the world either.
posted by Maias at 6:04 AM on September 1, 2006


oh, hell, no ... like the government couldn't possibly have an ulterior motive, decide that our society was too free or be run by vulgar people who want to turn a profit

the naivete of his proposed solution is pretty amazing


That was my first knee-jerk reaction, too, Pyramid Termite. But haven't both Britain and Canada successfully managed publicly-funded media without excess governmental influence over content (at least, as far as I know--someone who knows more on the subject, feel free to set me straight)? Look at the differences between popular support for Bush admin policies in those countries compared to ours; maybe the quality of the press is a factor. And if you want to be particular about it, our government can already abuse its FCC licensing power--the trick with publicly funded news media would be to give complete authority for funding decisions to an independent body.

Of course, this is utopianism. In USA today, corporations rule, and govenement is only a figurehead to conceal the fact from the masses.

The pursuits of basic public accountability, fairness and the rule of law are not utopianism. As much as some with vested interests like to dismiss any desire to improve American democracy as a utopianist impulse, it's just not so.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:36 AM on September 1, 2006


But haven't both Britain and Canada successfully managed publicly-funded media without excess governmental influence over content...

Yes, they have. But what the Wired article was proposing was that *all* media organizations be gov't sponsored. This would make the government, a quasi-monopolist of the news media. A terrible idea.
posted by storybored at 8:20 AM on September 1, 2006


storbored: i see. good point, actually.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:36 AM on September 1, 2006


Imagine an editor selecting stories. In a meeting his boss mentions that a particular advertiser is pleased or displeased....

This conflict of interest does happen. I can think of some automotive magazines that have reputations as ad-whores. The CBS example cited by dirigibleman is also an infamous example.

But there's more nuance here: Sometimes it's in the best interest of a newspaper/magazine to displease an advertiser. Or even go so far as publishing stories that would drive an advertiser out of business. Case in point: Fortune magazine's expose of Enron. A big, juicy, scandal is great for business. Greater readership brings in more ad dollars. Great journalism attracts good journalists. It's win-win all around.

The smart publisher tries as much as possible to diversify their advertising base. They make sure that the rugs they are standing on are small ones, so it won't hurt so much if they get pulled.
posted by storybored at 8:37 AM on September 1, 2006


What are some examples of good media outfits that you can share?
posted by storybored


Harpers
Utne
Mother Jones
Consumer Reports

frogan,

You gonna respond top the FOX/BGH story or not? Why do you continue to ignore it? Rough Aslar has given you a prime example of what you asked for and you pretend it isn't there? What's up with that? It's OK to admit you're wrong, it can even be a "good thing!"
posted by nofundy at 9:45 AM on September 1, 2006


frogan ... You gonna respond top the FOX/BGH story or not?

Beyond a he-said, she-said, there's no fucking proof, dumbass. Go buy some critical-thinking skills.

St. Petersburg Times:

...

Fox has long maintained that it never asked Wilson and Akre to lie in their story. The station says the two refused to be objective and were fired for insubordination.

In August 2000, a jury awarded Akre $425,000, saying the station retaliated against her for threatening to blow the whistle on a false or distorted news report. The same jury decided the station had not wronged Wilson.

The station appealed the $425,000 award. Florida's Second District Court of Appeal eventually overturned the decision, saying Akre failed to show the station violated any state laws.

The appeals court said Akre's threat to report the station's actions to the Federal Communications Commission didn't deserve protection under the state whistle blower statute.

The station used that ruling to go after the nearly $2-million in fees. In some cases, the winning party can collect their attorneys' fees and court costs from the other side.

posted by frogan at 10:06 AM on September 1, 2006


But haven't both Britain and Canada successfully managed publicly-funded media without excess governmental influence over content...

i don't know ... maybe ... but looking at the american government and the people who tend to run it, why should we have any confidence that they would do the same?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:11 AM on September 1, 2006


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