Let them consolidate (but keep the internet free)

A Baltimore Sun article notes that media consolidation isn’t good for local communities, and cites two new studies, as the FCC takes another look at its decision about the matter.

FCC commission decisions are too often made with insufficient data,” Gloria Tristani, a former FCC commissioner and president of the Benton Foundation, told the Associated Press. “These studies strongly suggest that ownership restrictions should be tightened, not relaxed.”

… Rem Rieder, editor of American Journalism Review, published by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, said in an interview that media consolidation has not been good for journalism.

“When you get a whole lot of stations owned by one owner, you get a whole lot more … and more cookie-cutter products,” he said. “You’re going to lose local character. And certainly that applies when one entity owns several forms of media in one town: You lose the competitiveness that’s so important to good journalism.”

Rieder said the proliferation of Web sites and bloggers has created an impression that there are sufficient voices in any given community. “But there aren’t enough voices that do original reporting,” he said.

The FCC isn’t likely to tighten anything and may actually further loosen ownership rules. While I agree that this isn’t “good” for communities, it’s also quite irrelevant. It is what it is, folks. This particular horse is so far out of the barn that it’ll never return, and arguing about it misses the point that the people formerly known as the audience are aware of the homogenization of journalism and are now taking matters into their own hands.

With all due respect to Mr. Rieder, “original reporting” is exactly what’s developing at the center of the personal media revolution, and in just a few years, it won’t matter if one entity (a.k.a. “the man”) owns every traditional media outlet in a community.

We tend to look at developments in media as events in a linear process when they are actually crosswise and multi-dimensional. All of these entities “controlled” by the FCC are being disrupted by Media 2.0. The disruption is what’s growing, not Media 1.0, so while we clearly ought to care about what happens in this space, the reality is it isn’t the only space anymore.

And the real rub to the institutional world is this: it’s all about people, not big business. It’s people who are feeling the effects of media consolidation that are referenced in the studies above, but people aren’t passive and helpless media “consumers” anymore, and in some ways they’ve already turned the page on the past. The big Media 2.0 players are helping them, and this WILL continue.

So I say let them consolidate, for the future isn’t theirs. Keep the internet free, and let us continue to build that which is new.

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