Wednesday, October 03, 2007

WOTM FAQ #4: Is the debate about media concentration you are having with other scholars fun and stimulating?

A FAQ series featuring some real questions I have answered from time to time.

It’s been awhile since I last added to my FAQ. The above is based on the opening line of a recent email I received from a graduate student. Following is my response.

I can assure you that the subject of media competition and its effects is not a simple academic debate among scholars. This is a high stakes issue. The measurement of media competition-- indeed the definition of what this means-- has policy implications for a wide range of players as well as for society at large. The folks who style themselves as media reformers I believe are more interested in creating a media environment that would be LESS diverse, more beholden to small time moguls with ideological agendas and more ridden with bias than anything we have now. Today the many large companies are most publicly held (the public being the pension funds that teachers, union members, and the rest of us invest our savings in), that are far more transparent than mom and pop entities are, and, by and large, are interested in profitability rather than steering the political or cultural content in any specific direction. I prefer to have the owners as merchants, not missionaries.

News Corp. is often held at the bogey-man by the reformistas. Yet News Corp. has been one of the major providers of choice and diversity in the media business.

-- In the 1980s, it was Murdoch's company that created the fourth broadcast network that media critics had been pleading for over decades.
--In the 1990s, News Corp. risked more of its money to start a second competitive all-news and information network.
-- In the current decade News Corp. continues to subsidize a money losing New York Post newspaper, when other publishers are cutting and running.

One reason this does not impress the so-call media reformers is that the content of these outlets is not what they think "the people" should have ready access to. What they all have in common is that they present us consumers with real choices, with media diversity in the most pragmatic sense.The Fox Network initially went down market, when the reformers assumed a new network would be more elitist. Fox News may or may not be conservative, but it is certainly different than CNN or MSNBC: that's diversity. The New York Post is not my idea of a great newspaper-- but New Yorkers already have the Times and Newsday and the Daily News. The Post is a real choice. Not mine, but for hundreds of thousands of readers. If owning Dow Jones will help News Corporation launch-- again with its own money at risk-- a competitive financial news network to compete with CNBC, then how do we lose?

I don't know if these comments fit into your research, which apparently is looking at a global context. I am merely reinforcing what I hope you have leaned from these "debates": that there is more to media competition than a string of percentages of audience share, who has how much revenue and lists of who owns what.