Tag Archives: competition

AOL commercialism democracy deregulation history internet journalism marketing mass media media concentration media ownership Microsoft professionalism public service

Commercialism and professionalism – democratic media or declining standards?

A response to Mass Media and Society (James Curran and Michael Gurevitch), Chapter 10

Daniel Hallin argues in “Commercialism and Professionalism in the American News Media” that the decline of journalistic professionalism due to commercialism is not necessarily bad or good but instead a complex change.  He agrees with one side of the debate that it may lead to a more democratic media, but says that the old school worry about declining standards and less public-affairs information is probably true as well.

Hallin traces the development of professionalism in the media by citing a 1940s-era Commission on the Freedom of the Press report that reflected concerns similar to those we have today.  The commission found that the political leanings of media owners and concentration of ownership required that journalists consider their work as a public service, not just a job.  On the other hand, more recent developments have pushed for more market-driven journalism.  Forces such as competition for viewership with television and public (stock market) ownership of media companies have made many newspaper executives advocate market-driven reporting.  In television, increased competition, deregulation, the rise of local news and reality-based programming and large media-corporate mergers have pushed away from professionalism as well.  Hallin says that despite all this, pro-market editors and owners have not won the argument-professionalism is still alive on the individual journalist level.  More to the point, he believes that neither side is right.  For example, though market-driven shows like Hard Copy, Larry King Live and Jerry Springer may give voice to individuals with controversial minority beliefs that would never be touched by hard news reporters, these shows are more interested in exploitation and fear-mongering than discussion of issues.  Hallin says that old-style professional reporting leads to regrettable practices like accepting the government’s official version of events and covering news more important to the elites.  On the other hand, the market-driven ideology might lead to information-rich media for elites and information-poor media for the masses-which is hardly democratic.

I agree with Hallin, although I think many of the faults he finds with the professional media may have been faults of the culture of the 1950s and 60s instead.  The tendencies to focus on Washington, accept the official line, and cover foreign affairs in terms of national security were more due to World War II and the Cold War than professionalism in general-it was in the name of professionalism, not marketing, that Watergate was exposed.  Also, many of the things that may be attributed to marketing, like the drive for diversity reporting, are as much part of a shift in professional ideals as anything else-Hallin even gives the example of professionals wanting to cover the inner city even though suburbanites are more interested in champagne prices.  He’s right that the last 20-30 years have been a mixed bag for the mass media and information consumers.  There are more shows bending the line between entertainment and journalism than ever before, but on the other hand the market has created hundreds of television channels where there were just three, including 24-hour news coverage.

Debating media concentration and control

A response to Taking Sides – Clashing Views in Mass Media and Society – Issue 14

In the first article presented, The Media Monopoly and Other Myths, Noam and Freeman argue that concentration of ownership in the mass media is, when looked at statistically, actually decreasing and not a large problem.  The real concerns they see include local media ownership concentration and possibly Microsoft.  In The Realities of Media Concentration and Control, Bagdikian disagrees with their statistical methods, saying they have disregarded the context of the numbers-does it matter if GE or Rupert Murdoch have smaller pieces of the pie if they are now better able to get what they want?

Noam and Freeman cite a number of statistics in their argument.  For example, the total share of the top 10 U.S. companies in the information industry was 59 percent in 1987 but only 39 percent in 1997.  They also examined the top four firms in a number of individual industries and found the telecom, computer hardware and software, TV networks, and cable industries to be losing concentration.  Also, the information industry and mass media are below the concentration danger zone according to Justice Department measures.

Bagdikian, however, questions both their methods and their approach.  For one thing, he doesn’t believe computer hardware should be included in the study any more than print press manufacturers, because the dilemma lies in controlling content, not production methods.  He disagrees with the statistical approach because it does not include the real conditions companies operate with; GE owns NBC among other media outlets, and may choose to use either it’s manufacturing-based economic power to get what it wants or its mass media power or both.  Bagdikian also disagrees that new technologies like the Internet will necessarily mean more competition and feels their view of market forces are naïve.

I tend to agree more with Bagdikian than Noam and Freeman.  I do think that large media groups and media-and-industrial conglomerates have a lot more power to control what gets out to the public in what form than Noam and Freeman think possible.  Bagdikian is right about most companies not selling important properties to competitors and using their clout in one industry to get what they want in another or get laws made or bent in their favor.  Bagdikian also was correct about the Internet not solving the problem.  Although there is still a large amount of competition on the edges, the large players in the net (like Microsoft and AOL) have already emerged and dominate.

On the other hand, I can’t totally dismiss the use of statistical methods as Bagdikian does.  Noam and Freeman’s statistics were not precise enough to prove their position, but if a more detailed and narrowed analysis were made they could derive important points which could then be put into context.