Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Media Monopoly

Tribune CEO Sam Zell, who runs the company that owns The Hartford Courant and Fox 61 television, recently pledged to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that the two media outlets would decide independently on coverage issues.

Zell was trying to calm Blumenthal’s concerns that Tribune was violating federal rules on cross ownership of media outlets in the same market. Tribune has received a temporary waiver of the rules from the Federal Communications Commission, but Blumenthal had questioned whether recent consolidation efforts had gone beyond what the FCC envisioned when the waiver was granted.

“I support exploration of innovative, alternative arrangements and business models that may allow newspapers to survive and continue to play their vital role holding government and business accountable,” Blumenthal wrote to Zell. “To advance this vision and goal, it must expand access to information and competition, not produce media monopolies that shut out voices, perspectives and important news stories.”

Not to worry, Zell responded. The two news outlets “will continue to decide independently what news to present and how to present it to their print, broadcast and Internet audiences,” Zell wrote to Blumenthal.

Before Zell sent his letter to Blumenthal, he should have checked in on what the people running the Courant and Fox 61 had been planning for the past few months.

Here are some examples:

• Channel 61’s studio is in the process of being moved to The Courant’s newsroom on Broad Street.

• A single person was installed to lead the combined newsrooms and, more recently, a longtime Courant editor was moved into a newly created position to oversee assignments for both the print and television operations.

• In internal memos, Tribune executives have boasted that the “News content alignment project” has been initiated and that “all platforms report to one department head.”
The new “assignment czar” is “immersing himself in the work flow of the TV news operation,” according to an internal Tribune memo.

The memo continues that “the role will be pivotal in helping our news organizations to coordinate content, improve quality through collaboration and avoid unnecessary duplication.”

It can’t be any clearer that the print, online and television journalists are going to get their marching orders from a single source. Zell either has no clue about what is happening in Hartford or thinks that Blumenthal is stunningly naive.

The attorney general has already responded once to Zell’s letter, sounding very much like a politician when he declared he was “encouraged by Mr. Zell’s pledge that Fox 61 and the Hartford Courant will continue making news decisions — what to cover and how to present it — separately and independently. Such editorial independence is important to assuring diversity of viewpoints, coverage and opinions in the Hartford news market.”

Blumenthal is correct. It is critically important to a free society that a single media source not monopolize the dissemination of information, especially when the motive is to cut costs with little consideration to whether its public-service obligations are being met.

There are, of course, plenty of supporters of the combine-and-cut theory of newsroom ownership — corrupt corporate executives and incompetent politicians, among them.

Now is the time for an attorney general, who over the years, has taken on much-less important and murkier issues to take a strong stand against Tribune Co.’s creation of a multi-media monster that flaunts federal communication rules.

1 comment:

Daraio said...

Daniel Littwin Wrote:

Hi Bob;

I sent the following email to Connecticut State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, after reading your email. Thanks for the information. Perhaps more people should start writing their government officials and we might be able to put a stop to all this nonsense.


Dear Mr Blumenthal;

Despite whatever claims Mr. Zell has made regarding maintaining the separation of Fox 61 and the Hartford Courant, his plans seem to totally contradict his statement of intent.

Please read the following editorial taken from the Hartford Business Journal, if you have not already done so:

Sir, in my opinion, this issue needs your attention and vigilance. Please demand that Mr Zell sell one or both of his media properties in Hartford and allow the citizens of Hartford to have real choice in their sources of information.

Thank You;
Daniel Littwin