Frank Ahrens, the Washington Post’s outstanding media affairs reporter, has posted a short review of a new book I’ve been meaning to review myself by Eric Klinenberg called “Fighting for the Air: The Battle for America’s Media.” Klinenberg’s book is another “sky-is-falling” anti-media consolidation screed that serves as a call-to-arms for media activists to “take back” media. But as Ahrens points out, Klinenberg fails to acknowledge the radical changes underway in today’s media marketplace that undermine his argument.
Here’s a partial list of recent upheavals since [Klinenberg] wrote his book: Viacom split in two. Clear Channel is selling its TV stations and one-third of its radio stations. The New York Times sold its TV stations. The Knight Ridder newspaper chain dissolved. Tribune sold TV stations and may yet be broken up. Walt Disney sold its radio stations. Emmis Communications sold its TV stations. Wave after wave of deconsolidation.
Moreover, Ahrens points out that Klinenberg fails to appreciate just how much citizen journalism and the proliferation of new media outlets and technologies is changing things for the better:
Klinenberg describes how activists successfully petitioned a federal court to block the FCC’s attempt to further relax ownership rules in 2003, but the petition didn’t cause the corporate breakups. Citizens exercise their greatest power when they act as a market, which they did by choosing new media over old. Old-style media empires–radio, TV, newspapers–no longer have the eyeballs to support the kind of audience scale that justified ’90s consolidation and so alarmed media activists. Why? Because of MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, satellite radio, XBox, iPods, et al.
At some point, I’ll have to post a more complete review of Klinenberg’s book, but Ahrens highlights it’s most glaring deficiencies. For those interested in examining the actual facts about the media marketplace and just how much more vibrant and competitive it is today than in the past, I encourage you to check out my last book, Media Myths: Making Sense of the Debate over Media Ownership.