Read the “Dear Journalists” essay of former Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps, published in CJR. It’s a lament about the state of affairs in the media world after all the corporate consolidation in recent decades. For this development, Copps blames the FCC, which “had fallen as madly in love with industry consolidation as had the swashbuckling captains of big media.” The recently announced move by Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable, says Copps, would continue the trend, “and I fear it will run roughshod over consumers in the end.”
The bane of media consolidation, Copps argues, won’t be solved by the pluralism of the Internet. Let him explain:
[W]e hardly live in a golden age of digital news. I don’t need to tell you that that only a few have managed to find an online model to support the resource-intensive journalism that has been so drastically diminished in traditional media. Ironically, the primary source of the news and information continues to be newspaper and TV newsrooms. In Losing the News, Harvard’s esteemed Alex Jones estimates that “85 percent of professionally-reported accountability news comes from newspapers.” The problem is, of course, that these traditional sources are providing much less news than they once did.
Online news champs may take issue with that assessment. But here’s the more compelling part of Copps’s letter: During his 10 years at the FCC, he held community forums about media issues all around the country. He writes:
In some places these meetings would attract media attention; in others they would go uncovered. It didn’t take me long to figure out why the disparities. If a community’s media was under consolidated control — with a large and distant company owning the major broadcast and, often, newspaper outlets — the coverage would usually be somewhere between slim and none. But if I was visiting a town where independent media still existed and locally employed journalists were on the beat, there would be advance notice that a meeting was going to happen; there would often be live TV coverage; and the event would be reported in detail, often on the front page of the local paper.
Provocative point. Call it the Michael Copps Community-Meeting Test of Media Wholesomeness.