Rogue Columnist describes how newspaper consolidation–a result of increasing laxity of anti-trust decisions–has damaged newspapers:
-The creation of monopoly markets and, through consolidation, cartels of newspaper ownership. Economic history shows us that monopolies and cartels always commit suicide. Divorced from the imperatives of real competition, monopolies easily slip into a self-centered world of bureaucratic conformity and a desire to protect the status quo. They became slow and rigid, in other words, road kill for competitors.
-Consolidation of newspapers into large, publicly held companies. This removed newspapers from their communities and killed a sense of holding a public trust. And it left them at the mercy of Wall Street. Newspaper executives promised returns that are nearly impossible for any (legal) entity to sustain year after year. Everything came to depend on delivering these short-term “growth” numbers to the Street. Among the biggest losers was the ability to invest in future technologies and the ability to shift to meet changing consumer habits. Those wouldn’t deliver instant double-digit margins. Thus, newspaper companies failed to start, or failing that, buy, a Yahoo or Craig’s List.
….Groupthink was a natural outgrowth of monopolies and the demands of Wall Street. This was hastened by the ascendancy of Gannett and its (for a while) superior returns. A startlingly conformist agenda emerged all over: design over content; short, uninteresting (but non-irritating to advertisers) stories, etc. The universe of different tactics, strategies and innovations that a competitive industry would have evolved never happened. The industry became strikingly inwardly focused, insulated from a changing world. When change was noted, it somehow always produced moves that degraded the news product. Years were spent developing “new editorial products” to attract non-readers. This was a questionable use of resources, as surveys and focus groups showed most of these people wouldn’t read anyway, and certainly not subscribe seven days a week to a print edition. But the resources to do them were diverted away from coverage that served existing readers. Industry leaders were singularly cavalier about their loyal customers, while chasing ones they had little chance to attracting.
While he describes this from the perspective of the newspapers, this has also hurt the consumer. One problem with large media conglomerations is that there is no way for consumers to challenge them. For instance, when I wasn’t happy with The NY Times reporting, I didn’t have another newspaper to switch to because The Boston Globe is owned by the Times.
Personally, I wouldn’t care if there were a monopoly on designer jeans (although mass fashion pretty much looks all the same anyway…), but a diverse press–and not in name only–is a requirement for a functional democracy. Bust those trusts.