The perils of media consolidation and a new hope

I’ve worked in the media since I was 16, starting in the mid-90s. That meant I got to watch what we now call “new media” come of age at same time as me. I worked in a radio station as it first adopted automated technology. I edited a daily newspaper that was switching from paste-up to digital. The technology involved was truly remarkable and unremittingly brutal to experienced workers. Youngsters like myself flourished because we were cheap and flexible. Now I am less young and new media is also showing some wear.

The new technology was made possible by capital infusion from a system of corporate consolidation, as larger and larger ownership groups took possession of the small town stations and papers most of us grew up with. This happened from small markets all the way up to the big networks. Frugal Dad recently posted a compelling graphic demonstrating how the editorial power in American media is now fixed in the hands of six companies (see more below the jump).

This graphic correctly shows the dangerous territory we are in regarding national media control. But I am equally concerned about local media as well. Some large companies control thousands and thousands of radio and print properties throughout the hamlets and burgs of the American landscape. Here in northern Minnesota, local boards and councils are being covered less accurately and less virulently than at any point since Prohibition.

All this being said, I do believe that the future is not in toppling the titans of national media (though that’d be a lot of fun to see). Rather, the future is in our own backyards. Local, independent media will be the antidote to our national media and, perhaps, our national woes and flagging discourse. This is the reason I write this blog (five years this month!) It’s also the reason I think small producers could keep pace with the big companies weighed down by old media debt and delivery methods. Honesty and credibility will serve as currency, and the tired propaganda of corporate media apologists will not suffice.

Some unpleasantness lies ahead. We wait. We remain vigilant.

I’ve posted Frugal Dad’s “Media Consolidation: The Illusion of Choice” below the break.


Photo: Possibilities remain in the bones of the past. My son Henry peers into his great-grandpa’s car in 2009.

Media Consolidation Infographic

Source: Frugal dad


  1. Good article Aaron…

    However, “backyard. local & independent media” certainly hasn’t defined “honest and credible” anymore than the “tired propaganda” spewed by the old MSM. In fact, most new media seems to have spawned from propaganda DNA.

    All you have to do is listen to MPR..or read the Scenic stRange News Forum editorials…or read most blogs…All have an agenda & it’s not reporting the news as Walter Cronkite used to.

  2. Thanks! I do listen to MPR and am a home subscriber to the Scenic Range News Forum so I know those sources well.

    I understand that public radio generally and the Johnsons specifically have a reputation of leaning to the left, but I don’t know that I see a formal “agenda” the way you do. Bias in the media is only sometimes presented in an obvious form like editorials. Usually bias manifests in news placement, editorial choices and in coverage strategies. In the case of the Scenic, it’s a weekly that by and large runs what it is given. They run Parker who is somewhat conservative and Vroman who is liberal. Maybe that’s a tilt, but Vroman is local and Parker is a Pulitzer Prize winning national columnist. Go over to the Hibbing paper where I write and you see about 2-1 conservative to liberal in the syndicated columnists. I don’t know that either tilt has much effect on the news product on the front pages. The Scenic doesn’t have many reporters and the Tribune doesn’t have enough political understanding to formulate an agenda. (You have to go over to Mesabi Daily News to find a respectably-constructed agenda).

    I guess I could go on and on, but what I mean is that the future of media may well not resemble the past. Cronkite was rightly known as a great journalist who pained himself not to take sides, but his reporting and editorial decisions did take very strong stances on what was *important* and when he did offer a subjective opinion, such as with Vietnam, he was perhaps the most informed and respected person in the country in doing so.

    We don’t have anything like that now. This blog, or others like it, for instance. Do we have opinions? Sure. Are they expressed or reflected in the core of what appears here? Sure. I do take a lot of pride and feel a great responsibility to share my biases so that readers can put what I say in proper context. I think we do need a better standard across the media for that, including mainstream media, where there is a lot of pretending that corporate instructions and cross-promotions have no effect on news decisions.

    This is a pet area of mine; lots to talk about. Haven’t even gotten into public radio and all that. Anyway, just some thoughts for now.

  3. I fully agree, the Mesabi offers the most balance view of the Range news. The Rapids Hearld is also less biased.

    Regarding Parker being a conservative – I’m sure you smiled as you typed that. She and Brian Vroman eat from the same table.

    In searching for “top conservative columnists”, “most read conservative columnists”, etc., Parker doesn’t make the cut. Here’s a couple of lists:

    Ann Coulter
    Thomas Sowell
    Walter E. Williams
    Jillian Bandes
    Mike Adams
    John Stossel
    Michelle Malkin
    Chuck Norris
    John Hawkins
    Dennis Prager
    Mike Gallagher
    Hugh Hewitt
    Michael Medved
    Robert Morrison
    Michael Barone
    Joseph C. Phillips
    Pat Buchanan
    Ken Blackwell
    Jonah Goldberg
    Oliver North
    Brent Bozell
    Larry Kudlow
    Michael Reagan
    Victor Davis Hanson
    Larry Elder
    Cal Thomas
    Tony Blankley
    David Limbaugh

    25) Chuck Norris
    24) Dennis Prager
    23) Mike Adams
    22) Tony Blankley
    21) Larry Elder
    20) David Harsanyi
    19) Jeff Jacoby
    18) Jack Kelly
    17) Rich Lowry
    16) Frank Fleming
    15) Michelle Malkin
    14) John Stossel
    13) Dick Morris and Eileen McGann
    12) Michael Barone
    11) Karl Rove
    10) David Limbaugh
    9) Byron York
    8) Robert Samuelson
    7) Charles Krauthammer
    6) Victor Davis Hanson
    5) Walter Williams
    4) Jonah Goldberg
    3) Thomas Sowell
    2) Ann Coulter
    1) Mark Steyn

    Some of these folks are also syndicated in left leaning publications. As I’ve told L.L., if he wants to offer only one-sided viewpoints, that’s his choice, it’s his paper. But he shouldn’t fool himself, or think he’s fooling his readship, that he’s providing a true conservative viewpoint. He and they are smarter than that.

    If you look closely, he’s sinced dropped her. She’s no longer in the SRNF on-line publication. I think L.L. dropped her about the same time she was booted from the CNN ratings-challenged “Parker Spitzer” show….after just four months. Appears the Nobel Prize isn’t the only one that’s been dumbed-down.

    Oh – L.L. is a diehard communist (he’ll agree with you on that). Cynthia not so much.

  4. I remember last election where MPR was boasting that they featured “no rant, no slant.” Half right, no ranting took place. We used to listen to MPR around breakfast but have had to turn it off more often because we have small children.

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