Media Deconsolidation (Part 24): I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

by on December 11, 2008 · 20 comments

It almost seems pointless for me to continue my ongoing media DE-consolidation series, which has been an ongoing effort to debunk myths about the media marketplace (specifically, the notion that rampant consolidation is taking place and that operators are only growing larger and devouring more and more companies.) After all, even the kookiest of the media reformistas can’t deny the truth anymore: Traditional media operators are struggling to keep their heads above water, and markets are growing more atomistic by the day, not more concentrated.

The New York Times website seems to run a story per day about traditional media giants falling apart as consumers and advertisers disappear. For those of you with short attention spans, you can even follow the death of old media on Twitter now via “The Media is Dying.” If 140 characters per entry is still too much for you to read, here’s the cribbed version: Lots of downsizing, bankruptcies, and closing of doors. The Tribune’s bankruptcy has been the biggest news this week, but few noticed the amazing statement by CBS Corp. Chief Executive Les Moonves that within 10 years he thinks CBS may dump all its affiliated TV stations and just sell programming direct to cable and satellite operators (and the Net, too). Once other networks take that path, that’s pretty much the end of traditional broadcast local affiliates. (I wonder who the FCC will impose those “localism” regulations on then!)

For those working in the business, the news couldn’t be any worse. As Ad Week reported a few days ago:

The media industries have shed more than 30,000 jobs in 2008, according to an Ad Age analysis of Department of Labor employment statistics and news reports. That’s about 3.5% of the total media work force of 858,000. Since the bubble-inflated high-water mark in 2000, media has lost more than 200,000 jobs.

It’s difficult to have journalism without journalists. Yes, yes… I know all about the blogging revolution, the rise of “mass amateurization,” the wonders of peer-produced “We-dia” (we-media), and so on, but the fact is, professionals matter.  I’m not about to go off on some Lee Siegel / Andrew Keen sort of rant here about the evils of the Internet and digital technology — in fact, I have repeatedly blasted those guys here for their Luddite-ish approach to saving media — but there are some serious questions about how investigatory journalism and local media are going to get funded going forward.

Most media operators are scrambling to adjust but most of them don’t really have any idea what to do. It’s easy for armchair critics to say “get online” and “reinvent your business model,” but most media operators have been trying to do exactly that for some time now, and failing (at least failing to make it very profitable). Even the venerable New York Times, with its wonderful online offerings, is struggling to make digital media work in the increasingly crowded online marketplace.

Regardless, none of this will likely subdue the media reformistas and their ongoing effort to regulate traditional media operators into oblivion. We’re going to spend the next few years bickering over the same old media regulations and new regulatory proposals that dominated the last few years. Meanwhile, as the FCC fiddles, old media burns. I don’t understand why we don’t just tear all the old walls down and give them a chance to save themselves.

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