Review of Champaign-Urbana & Central Illinois Media Ownership On-Line Now

On the last two Fridays, the mediageek radio show has featured a critical examination of media ownership in Champaign-Urbana and Central Illinois. These two programs are now archived for listening on-line:

Part 1, from April 2, features a review of radio and newspaper ownership, including a closer look at the Illini Media Company, the student-run non-profit that owns a daily newspaper, a weekly newspaper and a commercial radio station.

Part 2, from April 9, features a review of TV ownership, including close looks at owners Sinclair (the Clear Channel of local TV stations) and Nexstar, along with an analysis of what the FCC’s new ownership rules might allow to happen if and when they go into effect.

We did these two programs as part of WEFT’s Spring Pledge Drive because only non-profit community media is willing to critically examine media ownership issues. To the best of my knowledge, within the last 8 years or so, my radio programs and articles for the U-C IMC website and newspaper have the only continuing critical coverage of media ownership in Champaign-Urbana.

Especially in smaller cities, I find that people tend to assume that media outlets are locally owned and operated, because the writers, DJs, reporters and announcers all appear local. And, frankly, Champaign-Urbana is all-around pretty lucky to still have most of this talent working locally rather than piped in from some other big city.

However, that doesn’t mean that the media outlets are locally owned, and as we discuss extensively in these two programs, most of the commercial broadcast media is not owned locally — so most of those ad dollars are siphoned off to Rhode Island, Pennsylvania or Wall Street. With the dominant trend in broadcasting moving towards voice tracking and syndication, I fear that we will see and hear fewer and fewer truly local faces and voices in our local broadcast media.

Local media issues in general tend to get covered more often by newspapers in big cities like Chicago and New York, perhaps because they still have quite a bit of competition or because they tend to have several alternative press outlets that aren’t beholden to the biggest players. But here in Central Illinois there is next to zero mainstream press coverage of media issues, except when a station changes hands or some big media personality gets hired, fired or makes a public appearance.

It’s the mid-size markets that really need this kind of reporting. The very lack of any critical coverage or analysis of media ownership in these cities is why the likes of Clear Channel have been so successful in eating up whole chunks of the radio spectrum with very little notice by local citizens.