Is last week's FCC ruling allowing newspaper owners to buy radio and TV stations in America's 20 largest markets a blessing to the beleaguered but noble newspaper industry, or a potentially damaging step toward media consolidation and lack of diversity?
Both. The so-called cross ownership ban had been in place for more than 30 years, implemented in an age when TV, radio, and newspapers were the only game in town. Now, proponents argue, the explosion of new media outlets and the availability of instant news on the Web has rendered it an anachronism. The FCC agreed, by a slim margin. Now the stage is set for media conglomerates to increase control over large metropolitan news outlets across all platforms.
The rule change is a gift to newspaper owners, who will immediately seek to diversify their holdings as advertising revenues continue to plunge in almost every major market.
But that gift comes with a heavy price: the almost certain loss of diversity of ownership of major news outlets. The result will be strengthened conglomerates, and a smaller pool of owners to provide the variety necessary to a rich and nourishing media palate.
Consider, for example, a note in The New York Times that the rule change "could pave the way for Rupert Murdoch to win permanent waivers to control two television stations in New York, as well as the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal." No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, that degree of media power in the hands of a single owner is a frightful thought.
Consequently, the PR industry should be ready for the prospect of even further homogenization of the news outlets they deal with, and a deepening divide between the "mainstream" and the "new" media. Time will tell whether healthier newspaper balance sheets are a fair price to pay for never-ending consolidation.