CurrentÂ Federal Communications Commission rules prohibit newspapers from owning television stations that broadcast in their local market area. Policy wonksÂ use the term “cross-ownership” to describe this ban, and for the second time since 2002Â this cross-ownership banÂ is under review. AÂ recent article by USA Today media reporter David Lieberman takes what amounts to a Godzilla versus Mothra view of the debate over whether the FCC should lift or maintainÂ this ban.
In essence, Lieberman paints a picture in which local newspapersÂ and, to a lesser extent,Â television stations gather virtually all local news. The owners of these mass mediaÂ argue that their real competition now comes not from each other but rather from Internet sites that scrape their content, aggregate the top headlines for reader convenience and sell ads around this service of compiling that whichÂ print and broadcastÂ journalistsÂ have written.
Media reformers, on the other hand, view the cross-ownership ban as the last bulwark of what had beenÂ the regulatory regime that the FCC had traditionally enforcedÂ in return for givingÂ broadcasters valuable slices of whatÂ the Federal Communications Act of 1934 described asÂ the public airwaves.Â
Are New Deal-era rules relevant in the cyber-century? Do citizens have a stake in the cross-ownership debate?
USA Today summarizes theÂ owners’ viewÂ of the debateÂ in this paragraph quoting Newspaper Association of America CEO John Sturm:
“The amount of local TV news “is trending down, not up,” Sturm says. “The only prospect for more local news on local television is for newspapers to be able to own those stations. Every other broadcast ownership regulation the FCC has had since the 1970s has been modified or eliminated. This is the only one that hasn’t changed.”
Lieberman, the USA Today reporter, offers the countervaling view in this snippet in which he writes:
“Those who want to keep current restrictions argue that it’s dangerous to be dazzled by Internet hype.Some 82% of adults in a 2006 survey commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union said that they still primarily get information about their communities from daily and weekly newspapers and TV and radio stations.”
I’ve spent the last two years in this blog wondering out loud who or what is going to pay journalists when web news sites offerÂ what mass media outlets (like the one for which I write) serve up our content for free.
Alas, I am no closer to an answer than when I started. For instance yesterday I distilled the results of a survey that proved what we already knew — online sites repackage content they don’t create it. Will they become news gatherers as they grow and mature? That’s as big an unknown as whether mass media would really serve up more local news if the FCC lifts the cross-ownership rule or just fire more newsgatherers and pocket the profits.
And while I am a believer inÂ and advocateÂ of citizen journalism, last weekÂ I blogged about a separate survey that demonstated the correctness of another widely held surmise — that these home-grown media sites are shoestring operations and labors of love.Â Will they supply the missing local coverage? I hope so, but at this point to believe this requires a leap of faith.
The youngÂ folks who are re-writing the rules of media at Internet startups like YouTubeÂ are certainly full of themselves; if you’ve not already done so, amuse yourself with a peek at the Googlezon Epic (a predictive, pseudo-documentary that chronicles the triumph of the online over newspapers).
Meanwhile, old media farts like me live in fear that our paychecks and paidÂ health plans will end up as the collateral damage ofÂ the transformation of the newsÂ gathering and delivery industry. What can I say, except to observe that whenÂ Godzilla battles Mothra, surely theÂ people of Tokyo must tremble.