Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Ben Bagdikian Updates The Classic - The New Media Monopoly

I'll have more on this tomorrow, but here's an excerpt from a short review by DIYMedia:

Bagdikian asserts that much of the control over news content is implicit in nature. As a newspaper's advertising department becomes responsible for more and more pages, it's only natural that management makes news editors work with ad salesmen to insure 'proper' news is covered in 'proper' places within the paper.

By its very nature, this method of newspapering leads to a reduction in coverage of controversial stories - and while the Head Office doesn't send down a memo to reporters laying down the new law of the land, Bagdikian cites several examples of reporters who got burned when they tried to cover 'real news' in opposition to their papers' advertising departments; such examples stick in the minds of other reporters and are often more effective in promoting self-censorship than any memo could ever be.

Of course, some newspaper magnates have used their power to influence public opinion to their favor; Bagdikian cites the example of televangelist Billy Graham, whose post-World War Two rise to stature was completely funded and manufactured by two publishing magnates, William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce (then chief of Time, Inc.). By mandating that their publications cover Graham extensively, they built him into a household name - a level of stature he continues to enjoy to this day.

The problem, concludes Bagdikian, is that any commercially-controlled media will become corrupted by the influence of money, even if aspiring media moguls begin their monopoly-building with the best of intentions.

That corruption works its way from the top down, ultimately determining the news given to the American public. Chock full of statistics and studies to back up this conclusion, The Media Monopoly serves as one of the clearest warnings ever issued about the media's role in the erosion of American democracy - it's a shame that Bagdikian wrote this nearly 20 years ago, and since then the problem's still only gotten worse.

Much, much more on the updated version of The New Media Monopoly in the days ahead.