Free Press: You Get What You Pay For

CFAX today had Jack Etkin on their morning talk show to talk about the plight of the free press. He was complaining that we have lost our free press to the corporate conglomerates. Guest host Erick Thompson (who is on Chum-- er-- Bell Global Media's-- payroll) got all defensive and claimed that A-Channel news staff decide what they will cover and don't get any interference from their national overlords. Maybe that's true; maybe that's hokum. Maybe he doesn't know how a corportation can influence a local outlet through hiring decisions and budget; or through control of their national feed, so the local outlet gets a small list of stories to use for national and international coverage.
Jack Etkin dithered on that we needed an independent media and not media owned by corporations. What an idiot.
  • Any organization of any size has to incorporate and become a corporation to sever the health of the enterprise from the health of the owner. Joe's Weekly News should be a corporation. When a newspaper gets into choppy financial or libel waters, incorporation may be all that saves it from oblivion.
  • Corporations need to keep their costs low. That leaves more cash to dole on their product. When you buy a magazine, you don't buy it because they have their accounting in order or because they really have a crack janitorial staff. You consume media because of what it covers and that coverage comes from what is mined by its editorial and creative staff. If a corporation gets their costs low, they have more money for the key staff and production values. When they get their costs as low as possible, they can only go lower by applying their fixed administration costs to more products. Run two papers out of the same office and you don't need to pay two leases.
Where the free press concept has gone wrong: where the money is going; and what the spirit of the free press is. Instead of spending savings on improving their products and pushing for excellence, media is handing that money back to stockholders who expect more money every year. Last year's record earnings is too low. The media should be spending its money on its product longevity-- or split some money for gaining ground with the public and some money for gaining ground with the stockholders. Instead, media is being raided because we consume it like junk food. It has value and cachet. When a faltering newspaper is bought up, it seems like community spirit in action. When a newspaper slips away, there is little word of its demise. Media doesn't like to highlight the failure of competition: it smacks of schadenfreude, so publications can slip off the map. There is the blogosphere, but old media doesn't like to talk about the 800lb. monkey in the room that does the job as well as they do.
This is what free press is all about.

Comments

Tim Bailey said…
In the discussions of "corporate ownership" many people (such as this Deakin fellow) are very sloppy with their terminology, and so whatever truth might lie in their assertions is lost to imprecision.

Clearly, the problem is not incorporation, or even corporate ownership per se, but trans-national ownership and media monopolization.

And, of course, as you say, there is the Internet...

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