Archive | October, 2003

Documenting The Slow Implosion of Local Media — Some Tips and Tricks

A company that owns two TV stations in Central Illinois, Nexstar, last week shut down the news operations for two stations in Billings, MT it’s acquiring, before the ink on the paperwork was even dry.

I try to keep tabs on what our local media owners are doing all over the country, because it’s generally a good indicator of what will probably go down in our area soon. Media companies often test new corporate policies in small markets to gauge reaction and fallout before they roll them out across the board. By the time a company decides to make it general corporate policy, it’s too late for most local communities to do anything substantive.

I also try to share that information. In this case I’ve written up a fuller story about Nexstar and our local TV news situation for the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center website.

I encourage everybody to do their own bit of research on their local media, too. The Internet has made it much easier to find news in local papers from across the country, in addition to finding out the dirt of who owns your local media.

The first step is to use a tool like the Center for Public Integrity’s “Well Connected” database to see who your local media owners are. Sometimes they’ll use barely hidden holding company names like “Nexstar Broadcasting of Illinois” rather than the full corporate name. Don’t be fooled, they’re all the same company. But sometimes they also use misleadingly named holding companies like “URBANA-CHAMPAIGN BROADCASTING PARTNERS.” Finding out who’s really behind them is a little harder, but can often just be done with a Google search.

Once you’ve figured out who owns what, dig for some dirt. If you have access to Lexis-Nexis, which is now pretty widely available at many colleges and universities, then do a search for the company name in the “Broadcasting Industry” subject area in the Business News section. That’s the method that I find most fruitful.

If you don’t have Lexis-Nexis, then you might have to work a little harder. A lof of the articles I find are out of the industry journal Broadcasting & Cable, which used to post articles for free on line, but stopped this year. But, luckily, this journal is widely available in most college and university libraries, and in many public libraries.

Even though you have to pay to read the articles on-line, you can still use the search function on the Broadcasting & Cable webpage to find references for the articles you’re looking for, and then go find them in the print version in your local library.

A quick aside — even if you’re not a student or staff member at a college or university, you can probably still get at least limited access to the stacks, and maybe even to on-line databases. If it’s a community college or state university, they’re probably required to give all local residents access (since it’s partially paid for by your tax dollars), even if they don’t advertise it widely. Ask your friendly librarian, s/he’ll be glad to give you the skinny.

Yahoo News and Google News are also both good ways to quickly search out major and local news sources from all over. The only caveat is that different sources treat their archives differently. So while an older article from a small local paper might come up on a search, it might not be available on the web — but, again, you can use that citation to find the article in a library.

It’s also good to know that there are other folks also searching out media news. In the case of Nextar’s Billings MT stations, I got the tip from the Benton Foundation’s Communications-Related Headlines service. It used to be just a daily-email newsletter, but now it’s also a blog. Although it’s only a few stories a day, Benton’s focus is on communications, democracy and the public interest, so their articles tend to be pretty relevent to my interests.

A couple of other blog-like sites I use are I Want Media and Romenesko’s Media Page. Both tend to focus more on the media industry and journalism, and are also more “insider” in their outlook. Nevertheless, the guys who run these sites seem to have an exhaustive list of bookmarks and find lots of good stuff every day. I Want Media also has a daily e-mail newsletter that I subscribe to.

Please, take these tips and tools and go forth and investigate. Put your local media owners under the lens, because they reticent to do it to each other, and absolutely unwilling to reveal this information about themselves. Post your findings to your local Indymedia website, your own blog, write it in a letter to the editor, or make your own newsletter or zine. Serve notice to media owners that we’re watching them.

If you have other tips or tools for digging up the dirt, please share them with me by e-mail, or comment to this post.

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Klose Encounter of the Madison Kind

My pal John Anderson at DIYMedia.net got his own opportunity to press NPR president Kevin Klose on the topic of NPR’s efforts to quash low-power FM back in 2000. John was especially interested in hearing what Klose had to say about NPR claims that LPFM would cause heinous interference to their station, in light of the recent Congressionally-mandated Mitre report that concludes that LPFM poses no interference threat to any radio stations.

It all went down at a public entitled “Accuracy, Fairness, and Balance,” sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. John took his first shot during the audience question period, and he characterizes Klose’s response as an “artful dodge.” Read John’s full account for yourself.

It’s nice that John got a chance to follow up with Klose, since I had my opportrunity to question him on the topic on LPFM back in 2001, just months after Congress gutted LPFM, buying the NAB’s interference claims, hook, line and sinker. Klose played the interference card then, too. And while I knew that was a smokescreen, we didn’t yet have the Mitre report to show it so clearly.

You can read my account of that memorable exchange. However, unfotunately the audio link for the radio program where I actually questioned him is not working right now, so you’ll just have to trust me.

(One last thing — ain’t it convenient that Kevin has such an easy name to pun with?)

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Who Owns Your Local Media? Whoever it is, they likely own A LOT of it.

I just found this great media ownership tool put together by the Center for Public Integrity. It’s the “Well Connected” database of owners for all radio and TV stations in the US, broken down by geographic area. Just pop in your zip or city name and go. It even gives you a nifty little pie chart of radio station ownership, like this one for my locale, Champaign-Urbana, IL:

The Center for Public Integrity also just released a series of reports on ownership concentration in radio and determines that concentration is bad all over, including smaller and medium-sized markets, not just big urban markets like New York and Chicago.

The report on smaller radio markets says:

“…[A]mong the 25 metropolitan areas most dominated by a single radio broadcast company, only Florida’s Sarasota-Bradenton area cracks the list of 100 largest markets.

“Number one on the ownership concentration list is Mansfield, Ohio, where Clear Channel owns 11 of the metro area’s 17 radio stations. Second is Corvallis, Ore., and third is Albany, Ga. Of the 25 markets most heavily controlled by a single owner, Clear Channel is the top owner in 20 of them and Cumulus Media Inc. (the nation’s second largest owner of radio stations) controls five.

“According to the Center’s study, a single company owns nine or more stations in 34 different metropolitan areas. The limit for even the largest markets in the nation, including New York and Los Angeles, is eight stations. ”

The Center for Public Integrity says that all this radio concentration — much of it way surpassing the FCC’s current and new rules — happened as a result of FCC inaction and negligence:

“The Federal Communications Commission knew as far back as 1998 that the way it measured radio markets was deeply flawed and could lead to the creation of behemoths like Clear Channel Communications, but failed to act in the face of industry pressure and bureaucratic inertia.

“The result is a radio industry where Clear Channel and other radio broadcast companies own far more radio stations in individual markets across the United States than was intended by Congress, despite years of warnings by the FCC’s own staff. ”

It just goes to show that while media ownership regs are one method to hold back the media goliaths just a little bit, they’re far from foolproof. Regulations have to be both written well and enforced well, and loopholes, laziness and corruption abounds. The media system as a whole is broke and ownership regs are just a crazy glue solution.

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Oh yeah, Limbaugh’s Gettin’ a Taste

I know I should be more high-minded, but I must confess enjoying watching Rush stew in his own juices over being a racist moron, and now, maybe a prescription pain-killer drug addict. Now, if he were just some average schmoe, I wouldn’t cackle over the drug allegations. But since he’s a moralizing, arrogant, bigoted blowhard, who otherwise advocates that drug addicts essentially be rounded up and exterminated… yeah, I’m smiling.

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