Think Media Consolidation Is Good for Journalism? Think Again

Josh Stearns, Common Dreams |

The Federal Communications Commission is pushing a plan to gut its 30-year-old newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban. This proposal would allow one company to own a local paper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in a single market. Advocates of more media consolidation argue that allowing TV stations and newspapers to merge is critical to cutting costs and saving local journalism.

This is the same argument the Bush FCC used to try to push through the same bad rules in 2007. Back then, the Senate voted the rules down and the courts later threw them out. It’s time to put this argument to bed for good: More media consolidation won’t save journalism.

Banks have toxic assets. Journalism has media consolidation.

When we think about the state of journalism today, let’s not forget that media consolidation is largely what got us into this mess in the first place. Newspapers and TV stations have long been hugely profitable enterprises – and many still are.

Rick Edmonds at Poynter recently highlighted the fact that 2012 was a good year for newspaper stocks. Indeed, the top publicly traded newspaper companies remain quite profitable. In 2011, the McClatchy Company enjoyed 27 percent profit margins, Lee Enterprises had 24 percent profit margins and the Gannett Company’s profits were at 22 percent.

This sounds good, but not that long ago many media companies reported 30 or 40 percent profits. But instead of investing in their product during those flush times – hiring more journalists, diving head-first into the Web – most companies went on a buying spree. The biggest news organizations in the country got over-leveraged with debt as they gobbled up competitors.

Read more