Vital discussion on media consolidation not aided by false quip

Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but it and 5 other companies really own 90 percent of _all_ media?
Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but does it and 5 other companies really own over 90 percent of _all_ media?

It is ironic that a letter to the editor about media literacy would contain a wild, unsubstantiated claim about the media. Both the Enterprise-Record and the Chico News & Review ran a letter from Richard Sterling Ogden promoting a community radio program focusing on media literacy. Unfortunately, both copies of the letter ran the claim that “Six corporations own over 90 percent of media…” This claim has been floating around for years and, as far as I can tell, it’s a bit of easily repeated hokum that doesn’t have a scintilla of proof.

It’s frustrating when these unfounded and demonstrably false claims are repeated without any verification because it can diminish otherwise valid concerns about media consolidation. Because I loathe to see inaccurate, feel-good noise drowning out valid, useful information on the Internet, I often respond whenever I see this unproven claim repeated and taken as gospel (Here’s an example from Business Insider). What follows is generally what I post.

The simplicity of the statement “six corporations own over 90 percent of media” is its undoing because “media” could mean everything, including print, radio, broadcasting, recorded music, cinema, pay-TV, online media, etc., in every country across the world. Six corporations may have their fingers in many of those categories, but not all, and not in all countries.

Even if you generously narrow the definition of “media” to just the United States, one can quickly deduce that there’s no apparent merit to the claim.

For example, of the 1,774 full-power TV stations in the United States, about 20 percent of them are public television stations. Public television stations are licensed by various schools, colleges, non-profit entities — not, as far as I can tell, the nefarious six corporations.

The remaining 80 percent is less than 90, even if the rest of them were owned by these corporations (which they’re not). Yes, most TV stations air programming from broadcasters like Disney-owned ABC, CBS Corp. or Comcast-owned NBC, but the actual stations are owned by different companies. There are only about 79 stations owned and operated by the sinister six — that’s just 4.5 percent of the total number of stations. Again, 4.5 percent is not 90 percent.

The linked table itself acknowledges that the six companies control 70 percent of cable networks. I don’t have the time to verify that claim, but it’s not necessary because 70 percent isn’t 90 percent.

I could do the same thing for radio stations, newspapers and news websites. When you add them all up, I don’t think you’re going to get to 90 percent.

Ultimately, people who decry the potential for mass manipulation shouldn’t engage in it themselves.

Limiting Oakland night protests unlikely to solve vandalism problem

An older BART neighborhood map of downtown Oakland shows City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza (then known as Green Water Plaza).
An older BART neighborhood map of downtown Oakland shows City Hall and Frank Ogawa Plaza (then known as Green Water Plaza).

Two of the San Francisco Chronicle’s columnists, Chip Johnson and Debra Saunders, recently called for the city of Oakland to restrict evening protests in light of several recent events devolving into vandalism and other acts. In response, an SF Weekly writer stated the proposals would throw out the Bill of Rights.

I am not a legal expert, but it is theoretically possible to limit evening protests. However, this so-called solution may be difficult to enact and doesn’t seem to address the actual problem of vandalism and similar violence. Don’t get me wrong — there are a lot of problems that people of all walks of life protest, but I’m focusing on this situation for the purposes of discussion.

Regarding limiting protests: Courts have found it can be constitutional for governments to set reasonable date, place and time restrictions on the use of traditional public forums (although any such regulations would need to be content neutral and meet strict scrutiny because it is limiting individuals’ rights).

Regarding strict scrutiny and reasonable date, place and manner restrictions, any proposed regulations have to meet four conditions:

  • That there’s a compelling governmental interest.
  • That the proposed regulation isn’t too broad.
  • That it’s the least restrictive means to achieve that interest.
  • And that there are ample alternatives to communicate.

The compelling governmental interest seems to be the easiest condition to meet. An argument can be  made about limiting evening protests when similar events demonstrably devolved into violence.

It would be up to the city to clearly specify what the other communication alternatives would be (and whether they would be valid alternatives to those wishing to protest). Ultimately, the second and third conditions may be significantly more difficult to meet and I’m not sure Oakland can meet those.

Restricting evening protests may be overly broad as it restricts many of the hours available for protest and assembly (especially when the sun sets early in the winter). A large segment of the working population is simply unable to participate in protests during the day. Also, many governmental bodies meet in the evening and people have a constitutional right to petition their government.

It could be difficult to prove barring night protests is the least restrictive means because the proposal doesn’t appear to directly address the illegal activity and vandalism that is the heart of this specific matter. Even couched as civil disobedience, breaking windows, destroying cars, and shutting down BART and highways has been and remains illegal. There isn’t much in the proposals to address that. Sure, it may be easier to detect illegal activity if legal protesters went home at a certain time, but it seems to unduly burden those peacefully expressing themselves.

The other factors mentioned by the columnists don’t seem practical for informal protests and assemblies that are formed quickly. I understand the desire for governments to recoup their costs for things such as street patrols and traffic controls and to require that groups stick to a specific route. They all seem reasonable (albeit potentially costly), but it just doesn’t seem workable for more spontaneous protests which would be likely to take place regardless of any potential reasonable regulations.

I don’t think I’m in a position to suggest the best solutions for a city and residents 160 miles away. While possible, imposing new restrictions doesn’t seem to be a move in the right direction.

Behind the scenes of The Buzz’s new look

Today marks the launch of The Buzz with a fresh facelift. The new design is geared to offer a cleaner, more dynamic look at the area’s lively arts. While the look is streamlined, all of The Buzz’s regular features are there. We also have updated ways to browse upcoming movies and events.

Please take a look — either in print or with the samples below. As the designer who oversaw the process, I’m excited by the end result and I hope you will be as well.

The June 17 Buzz
The June 24 Buzz cover
Old design (click to embiggen) New design (click to embiggen)

Opening pages up: Since we launched the old design years ago, we had changed how tall Buzz pages were and the design was starting to feel cramped. It was time for a flexible design that looked great.

Last December, I sat down on a Saturday and took the previous edition of The Buzz. Using a concept page that I have previously designed, I spent several hours redesigning the section. I moved elements around, updating fonts and styles and seeing how everything fit. After some tweaking and input from others, it became the blueprint for the new design and launched with the arrival of our new Buzz editor Jammie Salagubang.

Here are the music pages from the old and new designs. The new design opens up the entire width of the page for photos and articles (it was very difficult to have side-by-side articles in the old design). Some of the new pages explode with color.

 

Music page from the June 17 Buzz
Music page from the June 24 Buzz
Old design (click to embiggen) New design (click to embiggen)


New elements:
In the old design, the calendar and movie capsules had interesting information for people looking for stuff to do on weekends, but the presentation was mostly a sea of grey text.

The new movies section features a “What’s Playing” guide. At a glance, readers can see all the movies playing at every theater. There are also ratings, review scores and more.

June 17 movie guide
June 24 movie guide
Old design (click to embiggen) New design (click to embiggen)

The new calendar makes it easier to spot key events in the week ahead.
There’s a lot more color and interesting elements that will hopefully
encourage people to hold onto the guide for the entire week.

June 17 Calendar
June 24 Calendar
Old design (click to embiggen) New design (click to embiggen)

Ultimately, I view the new design as an evolution of The Buzz. In the weeks to come, we’ll have some new ways to showcase local events in the area that I hope you’ll enjoy.

Feedback: Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment on this blog. I’m sure Jammie would also appreciate your feedback at buzz -at- chicoer dotcom.

Fresh off the presses, it's the new look for The Buzz—our entertainment guide. Please let us know what you think.
Fresh off the presses, it's the new look for The Buzz—our entertainment guide. Please let us know what you think.

New position, new frontiers

Back when I was a senior in college, I went to a job fair in Orange County seeking a lead on my first job in the newsroom.

As I was going through the rounds, it becomes obvious there are some things that I just didn’t have — an internship at a daily newspaper, fresh clips, etc.

After some so-so interviews, I come to a table where the editor reads over my resume and some clips. He noticed my Internet experience — interim online editor at the Guardian, working for SMART Marketing Technologies, etc. He pointed to it and said, “You should really emphasize this” noting that newsrooms will need more and more people with that type of experience.

Since then, I was more focused on other aspects of the newsroom — reporting, copy editing and pagination. The Internet was still on my plate at The Daily Mining Gazette when I helped produce the Web edition and provided assistance to the other reporters in the newsroom.

That brings me to 2006 and the realization that the editor was correct. Since starting at the Enterprise-Record in Chico, it became pretty apparent that there was a lot of work that could be done to improve the Web site and the paper’s online efforts.

After helping with some parts of the Web site, including launching occasional blogs to cover news events, I was promoted in September to the newly created position of online content editor.

With just over a month under my belt, the new position is presenting new opportunities and challenges to the newsroom and myself. Moving ahead, I hope to help further bridge the gap between newsprint and the Internet.

Considering that the commercial Internet over 10 years old, the window to make a strong impression has never seemed more tantalized and urgent. In any given market, newspapers have the deepest staff to go forth and seek the news. Newspapers are often in the best position to be a dominant player in the online market in certain categories, like providing local news to readers.

We’ve already revamped our photo galleries, launched podcasts and increased the amount of breaking news on the site. This week, we launched the newspaper’s most comprehensive election coverage ever — with candidate video clips and full audio interviews with candidates.

These are exciting times. I hope to help move the Enterprise-Record forward so we can keep the public informed.

The latest from E-R Labs

Things are crazy busy here in Chico. Here’s the latest video I produced:

It’s about the deluge of Pleasant Valley High School students rushing off campus every day for lunch. It’s an interesting sight to behold.

There’s a lot more stuff going on in the newsroom. I hope to share more with you all later.

Interesting convergence

It was interesting to see two stories about the dangers of journalism cross by this week. First was the news that the Iraq war is now the deadliest conflict for journalists in 100 years. On the heels of that news came a package of stories from the Arizona Republic marking the 30th anniversary of the brutal car bombing of investigative journalist Don Bolles.

According to a May 29 article on the Editor & Publisher magazine Web site, The Freedom Forum reported 71 journalists have been killed in the Iraq theater since 2003. This tops the 69 journalists killed during World War II.

The article also cites a Committee to Protect Journalists statistic that 26 support staff have died. Reporters Without Borders noted at least 42 journalists have been kidnapped.

The following day, E&P posted a link to The Arizona Republic’s special report on the slaying of Don Bolles on June 2, 1976. Reading the articles, Bolles was lured to a hotel on a false tip. A remote-controlled bomb attached to his undercarriage exploded as he was driving away.

Thankfully they found and convicted the people who committed the crimes — apparently in retaliation for Bolles’ stories. An article discusses the controversy around one suspect.

As I read through these articles, I pondered what these reporters’ sacrifices meant. I still haven’t reached any solid conclusions. I certainly salute their bravery and their dedication to reporting.

I certainly appreciate the reports on these reporters, especially Bolles. It was shocking to realize that such a horrific and brutal hit could happen in the United States. Reading about Bolles’ life and dedication to uncovering corruption at all levels was inspiring. I was in awestruck to read that he apparently tried to write a humor column every few weeks despite the constant rejection.

I wonder if I would be able to step up and face a gauntlet of incredibly harsh conditions. I also dwell on the fact these reporters were all likely killed in violation of international law and the codes of war. Ideally, reporters should be noncombatants dedicated to make some sense of a conflict’s chaotic nature.

Reading stories like Bolles’ certainly make me want to keep pushing as a reporter.

Fall cleaning

I’ve noticed the professional side of my site isn’t as current as it should be. There have been no updates since I started at the Enterprise-Record. With some looking to the site for inspiration, the content is getting long in the tooth (not that I don’t mind going through my old work).

That’s going to change shortly. I’ve got a couple of posts roaring to go on this blog. While I haven’t written the next great expose over the past eight months, I’ve got some stories that I would be proud to post up here. I also want to detail some of my work helping to develop additional news content for paper’s Web site — including the “live” event blogs for Labor Day and Halloween.

More soon.

Do they know it’s freedom?

I’m frankly disturbed by the latest survey reports regarding teenagers’ take on the First Amendment. This USA Today article details the results of the U. Conn. survey. Key highlights include one-third of the 112,003 saying the government should approve newspaper stories before the public sees them. Thankfully a majority of students say the press shouldn’t be subjected to government censorship.

What are they teaching these kids in school? The teachers and principals in the USA Today story say that they’re teaching kids about the First Amendment, but is the message getting across? What’s the message?

I think part of the problem might lie in that the First Amendment isn’t seen as relevant to today’s youth. It’s sad on many levels because the need for freedom of speech and expression has never been more important. Perhaps the best way to help demonstrate the relevance of the First Amendment is to include discussions of how it’s in their daily lives. Some ideas — Howard Stern getting fined by the FCC and his move to satellite radio, students’ blogs being censored by schools, students wearing Pepsi shirts getting suspended on a school-sanctioned Coca-Cola appreciation day. The point is there’s a ton of examples, they just need to be pointed out.

Part of students’ apathy toward their first freedoms may be due to the fact the groups that strongly support the First Amendment, such as the Society of Professional Journalists, aren’t developing persuasive arguments for their cause. When I was actively involved in SPJ, they were sponsoring writing contests with an essay prompt along the lines of “What does the First Amendment mean to you?” Doesn’t your brain bubble with thoughts with such a scintillating question?

Unfortunately the problem I see is that many modern discussions involve how the First Amendment is limited by some practical concerns. Broadcast regulations, active combat concerns and the fact that primary and secondary schools can limit student newspapers are all issues that muddy the First Amendment picture. At the same time, a greater comprehension of the Bill of Rights would only help students and adults navigate their way through such muddy waters.

Gazette wins!

The Daily Mining Gazette was in top shape in the recently announced Better Newspaper Awards from the Michigan Press Association. Staffers, past and present, from the newspaper won seven awards including three first place wins. Based points from the paper’s awards, the Gazette won third place honors in the General Excellence category.

Former staff writers Erin Alberty and I won a first place award in spot news for our package of stories entitled “The Ultimate Sacrifice.” The two stories told the story about the death of Staff Sgt. Paul J. Johnson and its impact on his family and friends.

In the same category, I won a third place award for my coverage of the Michigan Tech University Board of Control’s removal of President Curt Tompkins. I assembled three stories on deadline about the decision and its effect.

Related
Results from the Michigan AP awards

This is my first “number one” award from the Michigan Press Association and the first time I’ve won more than one award in a competition. To date, I’ve won a total of six awards from the MPA and the Michigan AP Editorial Association for my work at the paper. To see the award-winning stories, please click here.

Here’s a breakdown of other Gazette award-winners:

  • The paper won first place in Special Sections for the annual magazine entitled Copper Country Snapshots. The magazine included short stories and photos sampling the different walks of life and activities in the region. I contributed several stories to the section as well as other reporters and photographers.

  • The professional walleye championship was another winner for Gazette writers who earned a first place award for its coverage of the pro walleye trail. Writers included writers Garrett Neese and Jim Junttila as well as former Gazette writers Kevin Colbert and Erik Johns. The series previously won a first place award from the Michigan AP for sustained coverage of a single sports event.

  • Gazette Writer Brad Salmen won a third place award in feature writing for his profile on Stephen Dresch of Hancock.

  • Former staff writer Zac Anderson won an honorable mention award in enterprise reporting for his series “The Final Bell” about the last days of White Pine High School. Anderson’s series previously won the sweepstakes award from the Michigan AP.

I’m extremely pleased by the number of awards that the newspaper has received. During my tenure at the paper, I always believed that The Gazette was the best publication in the Upper Peninsula. I was always willing to go the extra mile to make sure we were.

It is a shame that there are so many former staffers from the paper (including myself), but I hope these awards are a tribute to the hard work everyone contributed to the newspaper. When I think of these awards, I’ll always remember Archy, Barry, Beth, Bruce, Cathy, Dan R., Dan S., Dave, Elliot, Erik, Erin, Garrett, Ginger, Jeff, Jesse, Julie, Katie, Kevin, Mark, Marshall, Matt, Michele, Mike, Olivia, Pat, Peter, Roger, Serg, Steve, Will, Zac and everyone else.

DMG reloaded

Although I don’t visit this site as much as I used to, I’d like to note that The Daily Mining Gazette’s Web site has been relaunched.

I’m not going to comment too much on the new design, aside that it’s very similar to other Ogden Newspaper Web sites. I think a site refresh was needed — the old design was kicking around for awhile.

On the other hand, four years of excerpted Gazette articles have disappeared. A one-month archive takes its place.