Local Newspaper Shows Utter Ignorance and Shallow Reporting on Media Ownership Rules and Effects

Our local daily student newspaper, the Daily Illini, ran an utterly bland, shallow and barely informed article attempting to assess what affect the FCC’s new ownership rules might have on our local media scene. The title is: “Media ownership in C-U not likely to chance with FCC rules.”

And, if the article actually had any data to back up that conclusion, then maybe I’d be less critical. But, in typical “he-said, she-said” journalism fashion, the closest that the author comes to data are quotes from local media owners and managers, put in counterpoint to local media scholar Robert McChesney and a rep from his media reform organization, Free Press.

And, maybe even that would be fine if any of the persons quoted said anything remotely specific about the Champaign-Urbana local media. But the closest thing to a comment made about our local media is:

By being able to expand, [WCIA-TV vice president and general manager Russ] Hamilton added, the media market would improve because money could be used to give a station such as UPN the ability to compete with NBC or ABC. …

“I haven’t thought about (the FCC ruling) too much,” said Mike Hale, assistant general manager at News-Gazette Inc. owned WDWS-AM and WHMS-FM radio stations.

That hardly qualifies as a sound argument that the FCC’s new rules would leave Champaign-Urbana unscathed.

Just a little bit of background research would reveal that two local TV owners, Nexstar (WCIA, Ch 3 & WCFN Ch. 49) and Sinclair (WICD, Ch 15), both filed comments with the FCC urging that the Commisssion relax the local TV ownership rules in order to allow duopolies and triopolies, and to allow the cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the same market.

Clearly, these two owners of our local media–especially Sinclair, which pillories the FCC’s existing ownership rules in its comments–are just itching to buy up more local TV stations, and maybe a newspaper. Such co-ownership would allow them to combine news operations across stations and across media, greatly reducing the cost of doing news for them, while enormously reducing the amount of diversity in local journalism.

As written, the FCC’s new media ownership rules would be likely to allow both mutliple TV station ownership and TV – newspaper cross-ownership to happen in Champaign-Urbana.

I’d call those some pretty damn major changes.

While it is true that the FCC’s new rules would not change how many radio stations a single owner could have in our local market, they would allow our local TV owners to get into the local radio business. On top of combining news operations (which is not so siginficant if only because most radio stations don’t do news anymore) local TV and radio combinations would allow owners to package advertising in such a way as to roundly underprice competitors that don’t own combinations, possibly running the few locally based media owners right out of business.

All it takes to find this stuff out is making more than four phone calls. It’s called doing research, and it’s disheartening to see that even student journalists don’t seem to have the time or interest to bother. Especially since this story is hardly breaking news, given that the rules passed on June 2 and the Senate resolution to overturn them passed a week ago, there’s should be no deadline excuse for not spending a little more time and effort to get some facts.

For some actual data and thoughtful conclusions about how the FCC’s new rules would affect local media in Champaign-Urbana, see an article I wrote back in June for the Urbana-Champaign IMC. Even if you’re not from Central Illinois, I hope the article provides an example of how you might go about seeing how FCC rules will affect your local media.






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