Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Golden Age of Media

An excellent piece about the current state of the media; newspapers, television, the internet, and regulation. Some excerpts:

The Media Cornucopia, Adam D. Thierer

Some grumbled that TV and radio featured too much religious programming; others argued that there wasn’t enough. Everyone said that local radio broadcast nothing but garbage—but everyone defined garbage differently. And many aired long lists of complaints about the multiple radio stations, television channels, and newspapers in their areas, only to conclude that their local media markets were insufficiently competitive!

The critics did agree on one thing: government had to take steps to reverse our current media predicament—whatever it was. A variety of advocacy groups then took the FCC to court and got the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to put the whole media ownership revision on hold.

Most participants in the meetings fell into the scarcity-obsessed camp. On the face of it, the scarcity critics have a tough case to make. According to FCC data and various private reports, America boasts close to 14,000 radio stations today, double the number that existed in 1970. Satellite radio—an industry that didn’t even exist before 2001—claimed roughly 13 million subscribers nationwide by 2007. Eighty-six percent of households subscribe to cable or satellite TV today, receiving an average of 102 channels of the more than 500 available to them. There were 18,267 magazines produced in 2005, up from 14,302 in 1993. The only declining media sector is the newspaper business, which has seen circulation erode for many years now. But that’s largely a result of the competition that it faces from other outlets.

Throw the Internet into the mix and you get dizzy. The Internet Systems Consortium reports that the number of Internet host computers—computers or servers that allow people to post content on the Web—has grown from just 235 in 1982 to 1.3 million in 1993 to roughly 400 million in 2006. At the beginning of 2007, the blog-tracking service Technorati counted over 66 million blogs, with more than 175,000 new ones created daily. Bloggers update their sites “to the tune of over 1.6 million posts per day, or over 18 updates a second,” according to Technorati.

What media monopoly?

It’s all nonsense, starting with the notion that a tiny group has a stranglehold on the media. A 2002 FCC survey of ten media markets—from the largest (New York City) to the smallest (Altoona, Pennsylvania)—showed that each had more outlets and owners in 2000 than in 1960. And the FCC counted all of a market’s cable channels as a single outlet (even though the typical viewer would regard each channel as a distinct one) and didn’t include national newspapers or Internet sites as media sources, so the diversity picture was even brighter than it seemed.

Staying informed

Becoming an informed citizen has never been easier. You can get up in the morning and still read your (probably liberal) local paper and several national ones—say, the Wall Street Journal (right-of-center editorial page) and USA Today (more or less centrist). Walk to the newsstand and you’ve got political magazines galore, from the Marxist New Left Review to the paleoconservative The American Conservative. On cable and satellite television: CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, FOX News, PBS, local news, the big networks (at least for now), the BBC, C-SPAN, community access shows—all offer a wide variety of news and information options, some around the clock. Turn on the car radio and Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity booms out at you from the right; or maybe you can tune in to Sirius Left on satellite.

The Internet has done more to create the sort of media that scarcity critics claim to desire than any other technology. Every man, woman, and child can have a “newspaper” or broadcast outlet today—it’s called a website, blog, or podcast. It’s hard to imagine how the political blogosphere could be more diverse, ranging from the Daily Kos and the Huffington Post on the left to National Review Online and Power Line on the right to Andrew Sullivan, Instapundit, and Buzz Machine somewhere in between. A political junkie must hustle to keep up with what RealClearPolitics posts on its site every day.

New Media is making our democracy stronger

In truth, one can make a strong case that the new media—and the Internet, above all—are facilitating a more rigorous deliberative democracy and a richer sense of community. “In modern American political history, perhaps only the coming of the television age has had as big an impact on our national elections as the Internet has,” observes Raul Fernandez, chief executive of the software firm ObjectVideo. “But the effect of the Internet may be better for the long-term health of our democracy. For while TV emphasizes perception, control, and centralization, Internet-driven politics is about transparency, distribution of effort, and, most important, empowerment and participation—at whatever level of engagement the consumer wants.”

Speaking of censorship and worry that media monopolies will filter our news for us... Is Kucinich a Liberal, or a Fascist?

Dennis Kucinich has recently introduced plans in Congress to revive the Fairness Doctrine, which once let government regulators police the airwaves to ensure a balancing of viewpoints, however that’s defined.

Read newspapers, watch television news, listen to the radio, read blogs, write blogs, buy a magazine. If you're being swindled, you will know it. And if you are not bright enough to realize that you are being duped... then I doubt you would be reading this post in the first place.

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