Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Will the FCC eliminate media cross-ownership?

If it does, I hope like heck they don't do it the way this bozo wants to: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/13/opinion/13martin.html?_r=2&ref=todayspaper&oref=slogin&oref=slogin.

Of course, that bozo is one of the guys who gets to make the decisions. His reasoning is totally assbackwards, which is hardly unusual for the FCC.

As I see it, the correct argument for eliminating the cross-ownership rules (which say that companies can't own a TV station and a newspaper in the same city) is that the evolution of the Internet as a news and information medium makes old boundaries between electronic and print obsolete and arbitrary.

Ideally, a combined print and electronic news outlet would have a high enough community profile to draw sufficient Internet traffic to maintain a robust news-gathering presence even if the electronic and print outlets that spawned it disappear.

Sure, these days, a newspaper could start a video news department and "broadcast" those stories on its Web site (we do some of that at The Gazette) - and a TV station could hire a few print reporters to round out its Internet coverage - but that hasn't happened much.

As of now, I think it still makes sense for a TV station to buy a newspaper or vice versa, rather than starting from scratch. By buying an established institution, you get the name recognition, credibility and expertise that business has in its medium, and you don't have to try to compete against them on their own turf.

Would this Frankenstein's monster of media actually work? I'd like to think so, although I suppose it's possible that you'd just have print reporters stumbling through TV stories and TV reporters misspelling their way through print stories (watch KOAA's News First Now at 4:13 p.m. Thursday if you want to see me do the former).

If it worked out right, on the other hand, you'd get great footage and live reporting on breaking, visual stories and depth and context for less-visual or less-immediate stories.

UPDATE: It's kind of fun to speculate about who would buy what in this town. The Gazette has a news partnership with KOAA, but when it comes to spending tens of millions of dollars, money would probably trump any established relationship. KOAA and KRDO are both owned by newspaper companies, or at least companies that started out running newspapers. That might mean something, either as buyers or sellers. KXRM and KKTV, on the other hand, are both owned by small-to-medium-sized TV companies, which might make more sense for a merger.

In the longer term, I'd expect a nationwide shakeup as media companies horse-traded and merged to get their print and electronic assets aligned. I'd guess that the process would provide a significant boost to newspaper stocks, although I can't say that it would be permanent.

Actually, that's another argument against Martin's bozo proposal: The real value in combining TV stations and newspapers, at least from a financial perspective, would come in small to medium markets (he proposes relaxing the rule in only the top 20 markets).

The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune may be losing circulation and market value, but combining either of them with a TV station wouldn't do a damn thing. Their brands are already firmly established and their staffs are so large that combining coverage with a TV station would be more of a distraction than an asset. There's precious little synergy to be found there.

In a smaller city - especially in a much smaller city, even smaller than Colorado Springs - combining operations could produce real cost savings and hopefully create a critical mass of eyeballs for a combined Web site.

Of course, if The Gazette bought a station, or vice versa, there likely wouldn't be room for a TV writer on the staff of the combined company. It would be a ridiculous conflict of interest. So, bad for me, but, I think, potentially good for news coverage and certainly better than the government sticking its nose in.


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