Catching Up – Consolidation Talk

I’m back home now after an early morning flight from Newark to Indianapolis and a half day at work. Somehow I managed to escape having my carry-on bags scrutinized by security through all three flights in the last 10 days — I’m not complaining.

My parents, who live in NJ, get the New York Times delivered daily, so I got a chance to read it more thoroughly this past weekend than my usual web-edition purusal (of course, aided by my relative free time while on vacation). On Monday the Times published its take on the media consolidation vs. diversity question — its title gives away its overall slant: “Fewer Media Owners, More Media Choices.”

And, actually, overall it’s not too bad, giving some consideration to the question of what actually defines media choices/diversity and tapping media critics like Jeff Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy, who has been one of the most cited pundits on the side critical of consolidation.

Of course, the article is framed as a battle of regulation vs. deregulation — which as I’ve ranted before, is really an innacurate and overly simplistic view of the debate.

However, reading the print edition rather than reading the article on-line made very clear one important fact — the article is on the front page of the business section. Why is this important? Because it demonstrates with utter clarity who the article is aimed at, and why the Times thinks this issue is important.

Even though the Times article mentions the fact that further consolidation “could give media companies too much political control in their given markets,” that point is not the central focus. Rather, the focus is on the quantity of media channels and outlets — that’s the issue that is fronted in this story, most likely to reach the many people who only read the first few paragraphs of a story. That’s the issue that’s most important to business — how many channels, how many players — pure, simply econometrics.

This article, and almost all news coverage of media ownership, is targeted to business people, not to the general public. These stories are framed as business questions, not as issues of concern to politics or citizens. The Times’ editors know full damn well that many people simply skip the business section because they aren’t members of the managerial class, don’t own much stock, and therefore aren’t too interested in this news.

This issue of framing and the placement of news is much trickier than the issue of censorship — in this case the Times has a ready defense to accusations that it fails to cover the issue of media ownership. Sure, this issue isn’t censored, per se, it’s just convered in a way that isn’t likely to arouse too much popular interest while still getting news to the dealmakers who need it. How many people would have known about the Beltway Sniper if all the news about it were on the second page of the Business page? Or even just buried on page A23 of the Washington Post?

Even though the web flattens this out a bit — without a doubt, where you put a story determines who will see it and how that information is used. Simple analysis of this demonstrates who the real audience for that information is.






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