slit their own throats

September 17, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

OOHHH, the first cut is the deepest
Baby I know (baby I know)
The first cut is the deepest
Try to love again…

Recently, in promoting his new movie, Michael Moore made the statement that “These newspapers have slit their own throats,” […] “Good riddance.”

Whether you like him or not, there is some substance to this statement, however headline grabbing it may well be.

Moore said that newspapers, bought up by corporations in the last generation, have pursued profits at the expense of news gathering. By basing their businesses on advertising over circulation, newspaper owners have neglected their true economic base and core constituency. He cited newspapers like those in Baltimore or Detroit, his home town, with firing reporters that cover subjects that affect the community.

When you look at media consolidation over the last decade there is some interesting evidence to support this position.

Consider the following figures…

In the US

  • Newspapers – 22 companies represent 70 percent of the daily circulation.
  • Radio – 20 companies operate more than 20 percent of all the radio stations; one, Clear Channel, operates stations in 191 of the 289 Arbitron-rated markets.
  • Television – 10 biggest companies own 30 percent of all television stations reaching 85 percent of all television households. Since 1995, the number of companies owning commercial TV stations has declined by 40 percent.
  • Networks – 10 companies own the top 25 revenue producing networks.  Those same 10 companies own 144 cable network channels, including all top rated networks.
  • Internet – More than half of the 20 most popular news Web sites are owned by one of the 20 biggest media companies.
  • Cable – Comcast and Time Warner serve 40 percent of cable households.  Eight cable companies have 79% of all subscribers.


  • Canada – Four companies (CanWest, Bell Canada, Quebecor, Rogers Communications) control most media outlets.
  • Spain – Grupo Prisa controls over 400 radio stations in Spain & Latin America. With Telefónica and Vivendi, Prisa controls Sogecable which services 80% of all television subscribers in Spain. Has stakes or controls media in Mexico, Panama, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Venezuela and the United States.
  • Italy – Italy’s first media mogul, Silvio Berlusconi, controls: state television networks and radio stations; three of Italy’s four commercial television networks; two big publishing houses; two national newspapers; fifty magazines; a chunk of Italy’s Internet services. Berlusconi is also trying to purchase the most influential paper in the country. One critic says that half the reporters in Italy work for Berlusconi, and the other half think they might have to.

Throw in a bit of globalization to see that:

  • CNN International can be seen in 212 countries, with a daily audience of 1 billion+ globally.
  • Almost half of Discovery’s 980 million subscriptions are outside the United States. The company has plans to push into France, China, South Korea, and Central and Eastern Europe.

Now. Those of you who follow these kinds of things will see that these are numbers I have presented before… in fact, back in 2005! Are we expecting that this has been diluted over the past five years and trends have mysteriously reversed… I don’t think so.

Perhaps this is best summed up by journalist Michael Martinez:

“I am a former journalist and I can tell you that journalism has suffered greatly in the last few years. […] Time and time again, I saw news organizations fire and layoff employees due to to plunging profits. I have seen reporters fired when they did a story but it offended an advertiser. In the last 10 years, seasoned and trusted reporters were let go due to newspapers and local TV stations needing to pad their profit margins. This has also affected the quality of news reporting. The instant news cycle, twitter and the internet has also caused an erosion of news gathering. Reporters and News organizations are in such a hurry to report a story instantly that they neglect the requirement to verify the stories they report. In many cases, they will report a story–without checking its veracity–of a blogger as fact. Then it causes a ruckus, it is debunked and the new organization has to issues some sort of apology or retraction. This happens almost daily. When I was a reporter the rule was simple…make an error…we will issue a retraction and you will be reprimanded or fired. Today…an erred new story is the lead story. All because the news media decided to cheapen the product i[t] presents to the American people.”

When the line of disctinction between news and advertising blurs too much, we get content without integrity. Perhaps this is what H.G. Wells meant when he said “Advertising is legalized lying.” Perhaps these trends of consolidation and globalization are diluting the very nature of media. Perhaps that is why people (not consumers) trust other people and social networks are burgeoning as they are… and perhaps this is why the business models are breaking.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.


Entry filed under: Media. Tags: , , , , .

financial signs of change? culture clash

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