Monday, June 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Media Models

I am struck by two very different stories about media outlets in the last few days. The first is about a "tiny" local tv station, KXMC in Minot, North Dakota, that has become a lifeline to residents and evacuees desperate for information about the floods that have ravaged the area. The station, owned by a local family and staffed by another family—a father and two sons—has provided round-the-clock coverage of the flood.  Live coverage like that is expensive, but as the KXMC owners told The NY Times, "We don't know what the financials are going to be, but neither do a lot of other people here." In other words, providing crucial news to the community takes priority over profit calculations.

Contrast that to The Tribune Company, publisher of proud newspapers such as the LA Times and Chicago Tribune, and the subject of a devastating new book by James O'Shea (a former Trib editor) called "The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers." The book tells the story of the disastrous merger of those two papers and their near-evisceration at the hands of financier Sam Zell.  In a review of the book in Sunday's NY Times, Bryan Burrough writes:
"For years, most large American newspapers were owned by families — the Grahams in Washington, the McCormicks in Chicago, the Chandlers in Los Angeles — but as those families grew and spread, their far-flung members sought greater returns. Beginning in the 1960s, many of the companies began going public, and therein can be found the underlying problem. 

The demands placed upon publicly held companies — more profits, a higher stock price — cannot easily be reconciled with the demands of quality journalism, which needs more people and higher salaries than a cut-rate alternative. When newspapers faced any kind of challenge, whether from the Internet or higher newsprint costs, the answer has long been to cut costs, which leads inevitably to lower-quality journalism."
So what does the future hold for journalism? Well, James O'Shea left the Tribune for the Chicago New Cooperative, one of a crop of new nonprofit  news organization providing high quality, relevant journalism. There's also a movement to support community-based local, low power radio. But yet another story courtesy of the Times points to another outcome: "A Newsroom That Doesn't Need News."   

No comments:

Post a Comment