Breaking the News

BREAKING THE NEWS….Mother Jones has a package of stories this month about media consolidation, and the lead piece is an article by Eric Klinenberg lamenting the decline of local news. He starts off with a story about a March 2005 Senate hearing in which Barbara Boxer questioned Kevin Martin, who had been nominated to head the FCC, about a study the commission had done on the impact of media ownership on local news:

Unsuspecting, Martin said that it had never been completed. Then, as he watched glumly, Boxer brandished a draft of the study, which had, in fact, been written more than two years earlier, only to be buried by the FCC. The report found that locally owned television stations, on average, presented 5 1/2 minutes more local news per broadcast than stations owned by out-of-town conglomerates. The findings squarely contradicted the claims made by Martin, [former FCC chairman Michael] Powell, and big media companies, who have argued that lifting limits on ownership would improve local news coverage.

….The discovery of the missing studies wasn’t just bad for Martin’s image, it was a blow to his pet project — trying to repeal what’s known as the cross-ownership ban, a 31-year-old FCC rule that prohibits a single company from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same regional market….Lifting the ban, he said, “may help to forestall the erosion in local news coverage.” But now, the FCC’s own internal findings confirmed what its critics had been saying for years — that letting one company dominate a city’s news business actually undermines the quality of the local media that most Americans rely on for their news.

The whole package is here, including a short sidebar piece from me that suggests the decline of national and international bureaus is an even bigger problem than the decline of local news. Even bloggers are going to feel that pinch eventually.