Who Owns the Media?
Being an ex-owner of a magazine, I continue to watch where our news comes from. No conspiracy theories here but where your news comes from continues to contract. An article in journalism.org titled News Corp Split, Buffett’s Bet Top Year of Big Media Ownership Changes tells us a lot more than just what Warren Buffet is doing.
According to the investment banking firm of Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, which monitors newspaper transactions, a total of 71 daily newspapers were sold as part of 11 different transactions during 2011, the busiest year for sales since 2007.
And newspapers were not the only media to undergo major changes. The last 18 months also saw local television sales reach new heights, the merging of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal, the Huffington Post's movement into web TV and further reach among U.S. broadcast companies into the Hispanic market.
The article goes on to further detail who owns what. Possibly the best news offered in the article are cases where mergers have actually decreased the audience of the resulting bigger/less diversified media outlets. I expect this is partly because there was significant overlap in the audiences as well as the content.
Where this is all going is, today, no more than a guess, my personal prediction is that as long as the Internet remains relatively free (as in freedom, not price), there will be a continual shift from media conglorarate-based sources to more local and focused sources. That doesn't mean, at least initially, these sources are objective but hopefully they will evolve. For example, in Costa Rica where there used to be only one Gringo-oriented news source, there are at least three.
What is likely to be harder is a shift for world-level sources. That is, sources where substaintial investment is required to offer real investigative journalism rather than 10-second news bites. A good example of what I am talking about is Al Jazeera's recent investigation of What Killed Arafat. While it is a great example of the kind of investigative journalism that we used to see 30-50 years ago, what gets investigated today is generally both financially and politically motivated.
Is there a solution? That is a much harder problem to address. While the Internet has significantly reduced the cost of entering the journalism business, there is a big difference between being on the ground in Estelí Nicaragua or San Ramon Costa Rica and reporting what you observe and having the resources to do real investigative journalism. To offer a huge example, the majority of the usanos don't believe the official story of what happened on 9/11 but as long as the few media sources with the resources to do a real investigation agree not to, it will not happen.
If you are not on board with this concern, here is what I suggest is a good test. If your news source offers a journalist independently reporting on something, you may have real news. On the other hand, if you see a talking head telling you "a representative of X says ..." where X is a government, an international organization, the representative of a company or industry association, or some other vested interest, you are not receiving news.
If you are looking for semi-large, relatively independent news sources, The Thrive Movement offers some suggestions. In a followup comment there, they say something we all need to consider: "follow the money".