Sunday, June 01, 2003

Media Consolidation

Arthur Silber approvingly cites this Cato piece arguing that everything is just fine in the world of media. Here's what I wrote in his comments (slightly edited):

That's quite a silly piece, Arthur. Focusing on the diversity of "channels" ignores the uttery lack of diversity in ownership. It is true that with the arrival of cable there was a momentary proliferation in ownership and channels, but that has gone into sharp reverse, and there is increasing vertical integration of content producers, networks, and cable/satellite providers.

The consolidation of radio, combined with an increasing lack of any locally produced content in many markets is obviously of issue.

And, of course, the consolidation in newspaper ownership. There are two dailies in my city, both under the same ownership. Are two dailies better than one? Sure. Are two dailies under one ownership (with the same web site) by a national media company (knight ridder) better than one locally owned and operated one? No. While I can get a diversity of sources on the internet, most are from a small number of companies. And, this is only of value for national or international news - local news needs to be locally produced.

Media and news in particular is different than other things, due to the economies of scale in its production, the use of the public airwaves, the special constitutional status and protection of journalists, and the fact that a well-educated population is crucial for a well-functioning democracy. Pretending, as Cato does, that because we have 15 channels of HBO things are A-OK, is either naive or dishonest.