Free Press‘ Craig Aaron and Joseph Torres (Guardian.co.uk, 3/26/09) promptly knock down the scary development in which Nancy Pelosi recently “asked attorney general Eric Holder to consider loosening antitrust laws to help out struggling newspapers by allowing more media mergers. Holder responded by saying he is open to revisiting the rules”:
Pelosi’s request sounds innocuous at first–after all, struggling newspapers seem to need all the help they can get. But opening the door to more media consolidation is not the cure for the crisis in journalism. More of this bad medicine will only weaken reporting and worsen the health of our democracy.
As a few big companies swallowed up more local media outlets, they gutted newsrooms. The Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that the industry lost 5,000 journalists last year and has slashed 16 percent of its news staff since 2001. Is it any surprise that fewer people are buying newspapers when reporters are being taken off their beats and bureaus are being shuttered?
But media consolidation hasn’t been a disaster only for dedicated journalists or the public who rely on reporters to keep an eye on their leaders. It’s also been bad for business.
Just a few years ago, the average profit margin for newspapers was over 20 percent–with some bringing in twice as much or more. But that did not satisfy the newspaper executives or Wall Street. Instead of investing in the quality of their products and innovating for the future, the big media companies have been obsessed with short-term gains. Instead of bolstering their news-gathering or adjusting to the new media landscape, companies like McClatchy, Tribune and Lee Enterprises used these astronomical profits to buy up other properties.
And of course, throughout this process, “federal regulators rubber-stamped these mega-mergers,” even though “the media giants took on massive amounts of debt.”