MS. ED

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Gorilla In The News

In 2006, the Carnegie Corporation of New York reported that news and information comes from a staggering multiplicity of sources. Today, in the United States, there are about 1,700 daily and 6,800 weekly newspapers.

There are also more than 1,600 broadcast television stations, and nearly 8,500 cable systems. The nation’s radio stations number 13,000, along with the newest development in radio technology and satellite radio services. There are web-based versions of all these media also, which along with the independent Internet sites also provide news in one form, or another (Gregorian, 2006).

Unfortunately, Gregorian (2006) reported that multiple ownership of media outlets negate many of the gains made from the high number of new sources for news and information. “Along with the ever-increasing number of news suppliers,” he wrote, “is the growing movement toward media consolidation. The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations, (but) they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming” (Gregorian, p. iii).

Six huge corporations, today, control the major media sources across the United States (Gregorian, 2006). "The six corporations include Murdoch’s News Corporation, which includes FOX; General Electric, which owns NBC, CNBC and MSNBC; Time Warner and its companies and publications CNN, Warner Bros., Time and its 130-plus magazines; Disney, which owns ABC, Disney Channel and ESPN; Viacom, and its company CBS and MTV; Bertelsmann, which owns Random House; and Gruner+Jahr, which owns more than 110 magazines in 10 countries. These trends have contributed to a commonly held perception that most of the news we read, hear and see is subjective, limited in relevance, and relativistic in importance” (Gregorian, p. iii).

In recent years, scholars have studied the power of stories (Craig, 2006). According to Craig (2006), historian Hayden White, and communication scholar Walter R Fisher both believed “that journalistic storytelling and narratives in general, are crucial building blocks for society and peoples’ understanding of it” (Craig, p.15).

The building blocks, however, have become multiple outlets, and consolidation, and the decline of family ownership have left media organizations subject to the same profit pressures as other publicly traded companies—despite the special mission media companies have always claimed for themselves (Akst, 2006).

Akst (2006) stated the traditional postwar mainstays of American news, the big three television networks and the many daily newspapers that provide most local coverage, seemed to be caught in a dispiriting cycle of cutbacks and declining audiences that they lack the ability to break, and that “Under the circumstances, it is fair to ask whether the news organizations of today and tomorrow are up to the task of sustaining the informed citizenry on which democracy depends” (Akst, p. 57).

Thomas Jefferson held that democracy relied upon a free press to investigate and to criticize the government. He believed a free press was absolutely essential in a nation that practiced self-government. The force of public opinion could not be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed (Coates, 1995).

Today this key guiding principle has been perverted. The issue of reporting the news to sell products and information harms credibility of the very idea of news for the electorate. The loss of the Fourth Estate (the public’s trust in journalists to truthfully inform the electorate), is a growing concern. Sixty-six percent of national journalists said profit pressures were hurting journalistic quality (Akst, 2006).

Gregorian (2006) said, “A 2005 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, for example, reported that the percentage of Americans saying they can believe most of what they read in their daily newspaper dropped from 84 percent in 1985 to 54 percent in 2004. For televised news whether broadcast or cable, the results are unfortunately similar” (Gregorian, p. ii).

The problem is serious. Just who is telling the stories, and why? Few will read this posting, but the issue is real. Many will argue that this posting contributes to a strong Democracy, simply by its very existence.




And who knows, we may be hearing how consolidation harms us by some of the corporations. But Time Warner, for example, until recently the company that owned AOL, destroyed years of work by many people who labored to be heard. You can actually find the HTML code (the code behind a web page display) this company inserted into their customer’s web pages when they stopped hosting them.

This is an example found on the Siouxland Observer’s Fiction Fantasy webpage under the Faux Pas Journal link (which, of course, is now a generic AOL page).

Oh well, so much for the force of public opinion not being resisted when permitted freely to be expressed—Thomas Jefferson.

If you do open the link above, please note people can unsubscribe from the blog AOL inserted by sending an e-mail address. Thus, if you created a page of photos, or anything on AOL’s homepage, and uploaded it for friends in another town, AOL changed the code to show a "goodbye-to-you" blog.

Confusing? Don’t worry. America is a free society.


References:

Akst, D. (2006). Journalism’s crisis of confidence: A challenge for the new generation. Carnegie Corporation of New York. Forum on the Future of Journalism Education. Retrieved February 19, 2009, from www.carnegie.org

Coates, E. R. (1995). Thomas Jefferson on politics and government. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from University of Virginia Library Web site

Craig, D. (2006). The Ethics of the Story. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield

Gregorian, V. (2006). Journalism’s crisis of confidence: A challenge for the new generation. Carnegie Corporation of New York. Forum on the Future of Journalism Education. Retrieved February 19, 2009, from www.carnegie.org


Editor’s Note: Our thanks to the folks at Jitterbuzz for everything fan, and also to the folks at GE.

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