A couple of years ago, just before the 10 year mark after the 9/11 attack, I wrote this blog post, “A Personal Reflection on September 11, 2001.” If you haven’t read it, please go and do so and I’ll wait for you. It won’t take too long.
You’re back? Cool. But just in case you didn’t want to take the time to read, I want to quote my final paragraph:
The other thing that has stood out in my mind since September 11, 2001, besides wondering about the folks I passed each day going to and from work, was seeing the affects of media consolidation. Like many people, my attention span is not always able to stay with one thing for all that long sometimes. I recall channel surfing that morning and afternoon. I think except for Turner Classic Movies and maybe the Weather Channel, most every other cable and broadcast network available was broadcasting their parent’s top news anchors. TNT and TBS were with CNN. ESPN, ESPN2, Disney Channel all had ABC News. CBS News was on MTV, VHI, BET and the other Viacom networks. Fox News was on FX, Fox Sports, National Geographic, and some others. NBC News was on USA, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC, and others. I had sixty some channels available to me on the Springfield cable system yet there were only five news sources showing.
This has been the biggest takeaway for me from that day — the media consolidation where the local cable system had over sixty available channels yet only five available news options. We see it in some respects each and every Sunday with the Sunday Talking Heads but those shows are generally speaking to the inside the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Politicians, and Courtiers. For most of us, it takes a day of tragedy such as September 11, 2001 to really see media consolidation in action.
While there has been some movement of individual cable networks between and among these five major media companies, and even sales from one owner to another (such as GE selling NBC/Universal to Comcast), the following links will give you a good idea of who owns what in the media these days. I am using the wiki for most of these links out of standard laziness.
Columbia Journalism Review has this list of the above companies as well as many other media companies that extends beyond just the cable networks I have been talking about here.
I do not have a solution. I wish sometimes that the various news divisions within these organizations still reflected the pioneers of broadcast journalism. Even as he sometimes did commercial shows, Edward R Murrow brought in depth reporting. Walter Cronkite did a few appearances in network shows and movies but maintained his credibility. NBC gave us Chet Huntley and David Brinkley then John Chancellor. I would hesitate to designate any current news anchors from these big 5 broadcast media groups as an heir to these men. Instead of a Huntley or Brinkley, we get Disco Dave Gregory and his dance party. Instead of a Howard K. Smith or Harry Reasoner we get The Clinton Guy Shocked by Blow Jobs (h/t Mr Pierce).
Infotainment at best. Pablum for the masses for the most part.
And because I can: