The NYT gave FCC Chair Kevin Martin the bully pulpit of its op-ed page today. He’s used it to take an embarrassing pratfall.
Martin’s problem isn’t the position he’s advocating: He’d like his commission to relax ownership rules that prohibit companies from owning both a newspaper and a tv or radio station in the same market. We have no problem with that. But Martin’s tortured justification for the move — that it will help save local newspapers — just doesn’t fly.
Martin insists that we act now to save local newspapers or we’ll end up with “fewer outlets for the expression of independent thinking and a diversity of viewpoints.” We like papers ourselves, and we’d like them to stick around. But if they do die, we’re not going to have a news or opinion shortfall.
But more to the point, how does Martin suggest we save papers? Allow cross ownership, so they can save on news gathering costs.
If Martin was serious about his proposal, we’d suggest he actually watch a local tv operation in action, where he’d learn that they’re already using the local papers to save on news gathering costs: Every morning the assignment editor reads the paper, learns what happened the night before, and plans the day accordingly. True, both outlets deliver news to people, but there’s not a lot of redundancy between the staffs of a newspaper and a TV station. Newsroom joint ventures have mostly been a failure, and many have been abandoned since they came into vogue more than a decade ago. TV journalists don’t report much and newspaper journalists are generally bad on TV. In terms of cost savings, they can pay for one less A.P. feed, but that’s about it.
But Martin’s not serious about his justification — that’s why he spends less than one paragraph explaining it. We don’t know why, but the Republican FCC chair seems embarrassed to come out and say that cross-ownership has zero impact on what kind of news we see and hear. So we’ll do it for him: We’ve consumed news in three cities where there have been exceptions to the cross-ownership rules (Milwaukee, Chicago, New York). And in every city, we’ve fared just fine. Surely the rest of country will do ok, too.
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