If you think the media is slow to understand the dramatic changes taking place in their own industry, you may not be surprised to know that Congress is even more in the dark. Recent reports suggest that some politicians would seek to handcuff the American media at a crucial juncture in the industry’s history.
As the lines between different types of media continue to blur, with traditional media taking advantage of new media at an increasing rate, some of the old rules simply don’t apply.
The FCC realized this important fact when it decided last year to enable media companies to own broadcast and newspaper outlets in the same market. Most major networks and many local stations have begun to partner with print media in order to enhance their coverage. Turn on the TV and you will see that NBC partners with the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC teams up with the Washington Post, and CNN joins forces with Time magazine. This just scratches the surface of what’s going on.
As advertising revenues continue to shrink, the pressure mounts to cut costs, with newsroom staff the frequent victim. By enabling media companies to share the newsgathering and other production costs across a variety of formats, old and new, localities can benefit from the in-depth reporting and news coverage they want and deserve.
The system of local ownership rules began in 1938, at a time when the media landscape didn’t even remotely resemble what we are experiencing today. The rules precluding cross-ownership of broadcast and newspaper outlets in the same market were crafted in 1975, before cable television took hold and when the Internet as we know it hadn’t even been contemplated.
Unfortunately, some in Congress want to reverse the FCC’s decision and reinstitute rules designed for a different time and place in the history of media. With the diversity of news sources available today, the risk of one company establishing a stranglehold on an individual market is less than negligible. In most areas, one can get a variety of news and opinions from radio, broadcast TV, cable TV, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and other web sites.
Communications have become easier and more prolific and the media industry that much more competitive. Indeed, Internet communications have become an increasingly important source of news, information, and commentary for the American people. We should embrace this development, while also understanding what it means for traditional media. Competitive pressures must be recognized by policymakers, and our leaders in Washington should embrace and further cultivate innovation.
Rather than relegating media to failure through regulation, Congress must instead acknowledge that the FCC correctly understood the evolution and rightly updated the rules to reflect the new reality.
Advocates of turning back the clock on media progress argue that increased media consolidation is bad or even dangerous. In an environment where revenue numbers for traditional media have been dismal (see, for instance, the report this week showing that newspaper ad revenues plummeted in 2007), consolidation may well be the only near-term solution in many markets.
Hopefully Congress will come to recognize the changes in media already taking place and seek to work with the FCC to modernize its rules, rather than putting on political blinders to the reality of the modern media age.
This commentary originally appeared on Media Disruption, a multimedia magazine focused on the changing media landscape.