Back in June 2005 I wrote about the Urban Legend that was growing up about the events surrounding a toxic gas spill in the area of
In his column in Slate yesterday, editor at large Jack Shafer, who often writes about media topics, takes to task sociologist Eric Klinenberg for opening his new book, Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media with the Minot story, despite some critical inaccuracies—or at least omissions.
Having already covered this territory, I won’t repeat them. You can read my earlier piece. But Shafer makes two other points that are worth elaboration.
First, Shafer reminds us of the increasing validity of the hypothesis advanced by economist Peter Steiner in his now-classic dissertation. As a reminder, Steiner proposed that a broadcast monopolist would be more likely to provide a diversity of radio formats than the same number of individually owned stations. Shafer states Steiner’s observation concisely:
Wherever a broadcaster consolidates ownership in a region, it will tend to diversify programming for economic reasons. Consider: If six companies own six stations in a small market, all six will tend to gun for the highest ratings possible and put the other stations out of business. Such a strategy will almost always result in duplication of formats, as was the original case in
And, indeed, prior to Clear Channel’s purchase of the stations in
But the bigger point Shafer makes, albeit in passing, that is “spot on” as my very British friends say, is that those who are highly critical of today's media ownership have no recall of what media content was like 20 or 50 years ago. Shafer simply says: “Now, you might be right that six of
That is, when was the supposed Golden Age when broadcast entertainment or local news was better than today? In the 1960s, when Newton Minow was moved to proclaim it a “vast wasteland?” In print, was the Kansas City Star “better” before it was acquired by
Finally, Shafer also takes Klinenberg to task for failing to note that there was another station broadcasting locally in