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Media concentration, digital communication networks, and the impact of new media on the news environment.

1. Introduction

Cooper notes that the mass media are the primary means through which citizens gather news and information. The ownership and control of television programming, especially news dissemination, is concentrated. Concentration of media ownership reduces the diversity of local reporting. According to Freedman, advertisers are increasingly attracted by the possibilities of more accurately targeting audiences online. Shirky contends that people worry about attention span and change the media they worry about. The Internet almost never moves us from a world of one effect to another effect (it almost always increases the range of all effects).

2. Combining Structural Analysis of Commercial Media Markets with Qualitative Analysis of Media Market Performance

Cooper says that the dissemination of news and information to the vast majority of citizens will continue to come from the commercial mass media for the foreseeable future. Structural policy must rest on a quantitative assessment of media markets and institutions. By routine antitrust standards virtually all of the national and local media product markets are concentrated. Cooper maintains that the goal of media policy should be to promote a vigorous forum for democratic discourse. Information is not just a commodity in which one source of information from one type of media can substitute for another. Cooper holds that dramatic increases in the ability to control and target messages and track media use could result in a greater ability to manipulate and mislead. The new technologies of commercial mass media are extremely capital intensive. Access to the means of communication is controlled by a small number of entities in each community. The Internet has not begun to dislodge the commercial mass media from their overwhelmingly dominant role. News and information provide the critical inputs for public decision making about key public policy issues. The broadcast networks equate all outlets, regardless of the disparity in the reach or audience.

Cooper contends that all media outlets are not equal in democratic discourse. The support for community-oriented activities with respect to television has transferred to the Internet. The structural tendencies of media markets make for "bad" economics. Contemporary mass media markets have moved quite far from the competitive form of organization. The technologies and cost structure of commercial mass media production in the 20th century are not conducive to vigorous, atomistic competition. Groups express strong preferences for specific types of programming or content. Advertising introduces a substantial disconnection between what consumers want and what the market produces. On Cooper's reading, the market produces what advertisers want as much as what consumers want. Advertising in particular, and the media in general, revolves around influencing people's choices. Institutions play a critical role in mediating between individuals and the political process. Mass media influence the agenda of public policy issues and the public's perception of those issues. Strong differences in taste result in preference minorities who are under served and undervalued by the commercial mass media. The dominant commercial mass media firms are large enough to possess economies of scale. The goal of having an informed citizenry is inherently qualitative and complex. Institutional diversity involves different structures of media presentation. Cooper examines the powerful trends that affect the print media and their impact on democratic discourse and political processes. The operation of newspaper newsrooms produces many stories that become an input for TV news. On the demand side, newspapers and television are complements. The supply of news involves the production of a single product. The general impact of triggering a merger trend will have negative impacts on journalistic values. Mergers tend to starve the journalistic values of the enterprise of resources. The power of commercialism overwhelms the political function of the media. As Cooper puts it, celebrity personalities become the centerpiece because of the easy point of focus on highly visible individuals, scandal attracts audiences, the horse race and hoopla are an easy way to frame the news and to produce constant updating of who is ahead, and verbal duels find audiences more easily than reasoned, balanced debates. (1)

3. Influencing Public Perceptions through the New Digital Information Age and the Tailoring of the Media Imaginary

Palmer claims that the paradox of user control is that of the illusion of choice within which the user is offered up for a form of soft domination. Marketers are continually inventing new ways of making consumption a more engaging experience. There is a blurring between the production and consumption of media. Media products transform themselves into media services. Digital media increases opportunities for marketers to map consumer preferences with greater accuracy. Interactive television consolidates a process of "mass" rather than individual customisation. Palmer contends that digital media technologies are pulling television in two opposing directions: towards individuation, and towards globalization. The illusion of user control corresponds to the idea of contemporary identity as a continual performative task of self-construction. The entire public sphere is swamped by forms of "public intimacy." Today's new media aspires to represent only the individual user's interests. The kind of world created by interactive or otherwise "participatory" media is an effect of the interface as much as any content. (2)

Brodsky claims that the nature of the news is changing. More news may lead to less as less space is designated for crucial background information. The media disseminates information about countries and connects them through information. The new media structure has assisted the process of globalization and has provided access to many new users. The media has a role in the public's understanding of events. Pseudo-events and real events are packaged similarly in the mainstream press. Thinking about word choices will help consumers of news realize the influence of the press. Brodsky asserts that the news has the ability to shape institutional knowledge through inaccurate reporting, that the media has the ability to shape opinion based simply on the market structure, and that inaccuracies will exist because of the nature of the news market (the market runs the news machine). The structure of the news industry influences perceptions of the world outside our heads. The power of new information comes with the pitfalls of traditional media. Brodsky points out that consumers are not blind to the influential effects of framing in the media (framing creates a shortcut and makes events recognizable). (3)

4. Interrogating the Nature of News Journalism

Fenton is concerned to address news and current affairs journalism that purports to be for the public good and in the public interest. New media has offered a fresh means of anxiety. The internet brings new ways of collecting and reporting information into the newsrooms. Newsrooms have become increasingly decentralized and flexible. The space available gives rise to the potential for a plurality of news providers that threatens the monopoly of provision from major transnational corporations. In an online world multiplicity adds up to increased quantity. Fenton argues that in a digital age, the relations of power remain on the whole the same to the increasing advantage of global media conglomerates. Concentration of ownership is likely to filter ever outwards to the internet. The internet can be seen as contributing to the stifling of journalism for the public good and in the public interest. (4) Freedman identifies the scale of the economic problems faced by traditional news providers and discusses some of the strategies adopted by organizations to cope with an insecure environment. The internet's ability to connect advertisers directly to consumers raises the possibility that the historic link between advertising and editorial will be broken. The major problem affecting traditional news providers is the degeneration of the existing news business model that tied together news and advertising. The internet features as a significant factor in the "restructuring" that is occurring throughout the news industry. The internet's advantages are a problem for traditional news organizations. The decline in circulation often attributed to competition from the internet predates the digital age. Television remains a crucial medium for delivering mass audiences to advertisers (news consumption is less likely to be cannibalized by online news). Freedman observes that the internet presents a genuine challenge to the business operations of traditional news organizations. The internet has contributed to a possibility that the news of the future is going to be sustained by a declining number of specialist news organizations. The future of news depends on imagination, independence, and investment. (5) Phillips considers the effect of the internet as a means of accessing information. The internet is a means of improving the collection of information and enhancing the quality of information gathering. The speeding up of news reporting and the need to be visible on the net is impacting on the quality of follow-up of routine news. (6)

5. The Transformational Power of the New Forms of Tech-enabled Social Interaction

Shirky holds that people are interested in bulk sources, in expert editorial judgment, and in serendipity. Overpaying, underserving, and the incoherence of the print bundle in a web of content will not be altered by reversing the revenue trend. The Internet makes all commercial models of journalism harder to sustain, and it makes public models easier to sustain. Shirky claims that newspapers are irreplaceable in their production of accountability journalism. People in the newsroom side often overestimate the degree to which people buy the newspapers for the news. (7) Shirky puts it that the idea of literary reading as a sort of broad and normal activity was done in by television: when television came along, it became, to a degree unprecedented in the history of media, the dominant activity in life. The Internet has not decimated literary reading but has brought back reading and writing as a normal activity for a huge group of people. When people are given media that is not interactive, they invent their own interactions around it. Someone who is interested in a certain kind of content can actually get much more access to it than possible. The actual effects of making more information available to more people have been enormously beneficial to society. Shirky thinks it would be difficult to show that the enormous increase in the speed and totality with which novel information is spread to the people who need it is bad for intellectual life. The news is not a very coherent category: we use the word "news" to describe more than one sort of rough set of things, and "gossip" to describe another rough set of things, but, in fact, they overlap. People will always be interested in information relevant to their current situation. The current newspapers, although they talk civic responsibility, do not seem to be turning themselves into nonprofit business models very quickly. Part of the disorientation now it is discovering that print journalism does not survive without a business model at all. The number of people who commit acts of journalism will rise enormously and the number of people who derive most of their income from acts of journalism is going to shrink. (8)

Shirky maintains that journalism is about more than dissemination of news: it is about the creation of shared awareness, and asks us to consider the difference between assembling a public for a newspaper, and for stories on that paper's website: the publisher assembled the public for the paper, maintaining subscribers lists and distribution chains, and got to decide what front-page news was for those readers; on the website the stories are the same, but assembling various publics is different, and the home page does not serve the function the front page used to (online, it is the relevant networked publics who determine much of what gets read). The logic of the Internet is that the act of forming a public has become something the public is increasingly doing for itself. Three big shifts are: an increase in direct participation (various self-assembled publics can increasingly engage in acts of journalism on their own); an increase in the leverage of the professionals working alongside the amateurs (high leverage in having a small number of professionals vet, edit, and shape that raw material; decentralization will increasingly characterize successful new models of journalism); and a second great age of patronage (in an age where the cost of making things public has fallen precipitously, patronage models look eminently reproducible). Shirky points out that journalism is seeping into the population at large, with the models of subsidy being altered to fit that shift. The journalistic models that will excel in the next few years will rely on new forms of creation. (9)

Shirky claims that the importance of the social graph as a shaper of anything that passes through society is going to become so present as to be invisible. (10) On Shirky's reading, we're dealing with the ramification of having long-form writing not necessarily meaning physical objects, not necessarily meaning commissioning editors and publishers in the manner of making those physical objects, and not meaning any of the sales channels or the preexisting ways of producing cultural focus. The maw of production of the book world is opening up. More thoughtful long-form writing is happening outside of the traditional publishing industry. Whenever the production maw has opened more widely, the average quality falls as the denominator has exploded. The ability to engage in price competition with one another cuts both ways in a digital environment (the marginal cost of distribution is still zero). The digitizing of a book adds to searchability and to portability, as search is essentially the current model of information-finding. The cultural norms that we set now will determine the difference between how much of what we're doing online is essentially self-amusement versus stuff that throws off a lot of significant public and civic value. (11) Shirky asserts that when publishing ceases to be expensive, no one has to ask whether something is worth saying in public. The filters are applied after something is published, not before. We are in a world where most books are incomprehensible to most people but we do not notice that anymore. There is so much content that we have broken all the old filters. The over-publishing of content has been a normal problem since the invention of the printing press. Individual activity is going to show up where it is needed most and where it is most effective. (12)

According to Shirky, when organizations think about strategy, it is often in the context of their own objectives, but when the surrounding reality changes both strategy and goals need to adjust. The ability to coordinate group effort and to coordinate group access to the means of publishing are ubiquitous, global, and free. (13) Shirky contends that online, small payments only work when the collector of those payments has end-to-end control of delivery: the core attribute of successful systems is the ability to prevent the users from expressing their preference not to be nickel and dimed. Nickel and diming us raises the cost of a piece of content and sharply lowers the value as well (payment systems have to forbid such sharing in order to function). It is not possible to establish a monopoly on news. (14)

Shirky emphasizes the ways the Internet and mobile phones and applications built on top of them have changed the way groups of people come together, get things done, and take action. We are entering an ecosystem where news gets produced and distributed and consumed in ways that are different and in some cases dramatically different from what we are used to. The old model of the newspaper is going to break faster than the hyperlocal civic reporting can come in its place. Our free time and talents, when considered in aggregate, represent a resource that's much bigger and more valuable than when it's just each of us operating alone. (15) Shirky asks us to imagine treating the free time of the world's educated citizenry as an aggregate, a kind of cognitive surplus.
   How big would the surplus be? To figure it out, we need
   a unit of measurement, so let's start with Wikipedia.
   Suppose we consider the total amount of time people
   have spent on it as a kind of unit--every edit made to
   every article, and every argument about those edits, for
   every language that Wikipedia exists it. That would represent
   something like one hundred million hours of
   human thought. [...] One hundred million hours of
   cumulative thought is obviously a lot. How much is it,
   though compared to the amount of time we spend watching
   television? Americans watch roughly two hundred
   billion hours of TV every year. That represents about
   two thousand Wikipedias' projects' worth of free time
   annually. [.] One thing that makes the current age
   remarkable is that we can now treat free time as a
   general social asset that can be harnessed for large, communally
   created projects, rather than as a set of of individual
   minutes to be whiled away one person at a time. (16)

6. Conclusions

Cooper demonstrates the misguided nature of the decision to essentially eliminate the limits on ownership: previous decisions to relax rules led directly to concentration, consolidation and conglomeration. Freedman claims that the news business will have to rethink its approach if it is to remain relevant and prosperous in a digital future. Shirky holds that transparency is the new marketing. User-organized media is not an anomaly as these users have the new advantages of speed and the ability to speak with multiple voices.


(1.) Cooper, M., (2005), Media Ownership and Democracy in the Digital Information Age: Promoting Diversity with First Amendment Principles and Market Structure Analysis. Stanford, CA: Center for Internet & Society, Stanford Law School, 5-110.

(2.) Palmer, D. (2003), "The Paradox of User Control," Fine Art Forum 17(8): 160-164.

(3.) Brodsky, L. (2007), "Internet News, the Changing Nature of Journalism and Misinformation: What Are the Risks for Scholars?" paper presented to ISA Conference.

(4.) Fenton, N. (2010), "Drowning or Waving? New Media, Journalism and Democracy," in Fenton, N. (ed.), New Media, Old News. London: Sage, 3-16.

(5.) Freedman, D. (2010), "The Political Economy of the 'New' News Environment," [4], 35-50.

(6.) Phillips, A. (2010), "Old Sources: New Bottles," [4], 87-101.

(7.) Shirky, C. (2009), "Internet Issues Facing Newspapers," talk at Shorenstein Center, Harvard University, September 22.

(8.) Juskalian, R. (2008), "Interview with Clay Shirky," Columbia Journalism Review, December 22.

(9.) Shirky, C. (2009), "Not an Upgrade--An Upheaval," Cato Unbound, July 13th.

(10.) Schawbel, D. (2010), "Interview with Clay Shirky," Personal Branding, June 8th.

(11.) Keen, A. (2010), "Interview with Clay Shirky," Barnes & Noble Review, July 7th.

(12.) Sattersten, T. (2010), "Interview with Clay Shirky," Publishing Perspectives, May 25th.

(13.) Shirky, C. (2009), "Transparency is the New Marketing," What Matters, February 26th.

(14.) Dubner, S.J. (2009), "Interview with Clay Shirky," The New York Times, February 18th.

(15.) Witt, L. (2010), "Interview with Clay Shirky," Kennesaw State

University, Center for Sustainable Journalism.

(16.) Shirky, C. (2010), Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. London: Allen Lane/Penguin Books, 9-10.


Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies in

Humanities and Social Sciences, New York

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Author:Lazaroiu, George
Publication:Economics, Management, and Financial Markets
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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