The publisher of the Seattle Times speculated today that the nation’s largest media companies are starving two venerable journalism watchdog publications by withdrawing their historic financial support for them.
As a result, said Frank Blethen, the future of both the American Journalism Review and the Columbia Journalism Review is uncertain. Blethen was part of a “Media Ownership and Consolidation,” panel at the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis. He said he was recently asked to join a task force trying to figure out how to ensure the financial vitality of the publications.
“Today they are crisis,” he said of the two publications. “The mainstream media no longer has any interest in funding [them].” He said American Journalism Review has had some of the best coverage of media reform and media consolidation issues. “[AJR] is being very quiet, but they are being punished by lack of financial support.”
With Blethen on the panel were Gene Kimmelman, of Consumers Union, Linda K. Foley, president of the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, and Federico Subervi, of the Latinos and Media Project.
"I just want to thank Frank Blethen for being here," said Foley. "He is the only publisher, one of the few owners, maybe one of the only owners, who have come out publicly in opposition to media consolidation and he has been there all along."
In other remarks, Blethen answered a question from fellow panelist Kimmelman, who was illustrating what he said were examples of assumptions which should be challenged by media reformers. He asked Blethen: Can media organizations still make money without consolidating further?
“Yea, you can make money easily," said Blethen. "For the forseable fulture these are very lucrative enterprises."
Blethen also said that he was not concerned up until two years ago about the possibility that a few people might gain control of U.S. media for ideological reasons. But he said he's now changed his view on that.
“I think it is frightening now," he said. "Control seeks control. The people who are now trying to monpolize American media are doing it for their ideological agenda as well as for their financial agenda.” As an example, he cited Rupert Murdoch, who he said “has been a complete disaster" for American media.
Foley and another panelist called for more diversity in the media’s coverage. Subervi, of Latonos and Media Project, said Latino and Latino issues account for less than 1% of the stories reported on U.S. network news – or 114 out of 16,000 stories tracked in the last one-year period measured by the group.
On the other hand, Subervi said there are now 19 U.S. daily Spanish-language newspapers, compared with five or six about five years ago. And there are at least 300 and perhaps as many as 500 Spanish-language weeklies. Spanish radio is also proliferating, he said. However, all of these media are consolidating under larger and larger ownership groups. <p>
Kimmelman urged media activist to be alert to what he said will be a new request to Congress within the next six months by major media to relax newspaper and broadcast ownership limits enforceable by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He said the first beachhead for this effort would be legislation setting up auctioning of frequency spectrum as a result of the onset of digital television, which requires less bandwidth than current analog frequencies. <p>
Big-media supporters will want the newly-available spectrum auctioned to private interests and will argue that the billions of dollars resulting for the U.S. treasury will pay down federal debt. But that is an ownership issue, said Kimmelman. Some proponents say the spectrum should be reserved for public use. Kimmelman says media reformers won’t win on this or other issues unless they build coalitions.<p>
"We need to reach out to everyone we know who believes in human rights, in environmental protection, in civil rights, in economic justice and ask all of our friends, how can you change for the better our society without getting your message out, without reaching people through the mass-market media. How can you make a difference for any of these important causes without an open media, a democratic media which promotes diversity?”