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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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January 9, 2008 1:07 PM

Postman v. Blethen

Posted by Ryan Blethen

A couple posts back I suggested that journalists should speak out against media consolidation. My colleague, and fellow Seattle Times blogger, David Postman responded with a different point of view. Here is his comment on my post:

"Ryan, I have to disagree. There is a political line for journalists, and speaking out about consolidation and the FCC is on the other side of that line from good reporting. I think reporters should refrain from giving their political opinions, even if it is something that might help our business.

The Newspaper Guild has spoken out against consolidation. The union and the Blethens are on the same side of that issue I think. There have been instances where the union wanted members to take political stands. There are some who think we should even be able to work on political campaigns.

There have been issues, certainly the estate tax comes to mind, that management of the Times believes is about the survival of our industry. If reporters speak out about consolidation should they also be free to express opinions about tax policy? I don't think so.

We have an editorial page that can do that, and an owner, a publisher, press organizations, the union leadership etc. Adding reporters to the list would only compromise our independence."

I agree with some of what Postman writes. Journalists should not work on political campaigns. I do not view media consolidation in the same realm as a political campaign, though. For me, consolidation falls more into the First Amendment category, a place where journalists have long voiced their opinions. The most recent example being the cry for a reporter's shield law.

Postman is also right that the editorial page, owners, press organization, and unions have a place in the media consolidation debate. Problem is many of the above mentioned have been silent. The Guild has been vocal at times. I was happy to see a Times advertising employee and guild member speak at the FCC hearing at Town Hall. Some of the minority journalist associations have been active, especially NAHJ.

Journalists on editorial pages need to write more about this topic. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing FCC commissioner Michael Copps said that editorial page editors have told him that they have a green light on any topic except media consolidation. That should be enough to rile up editorial journalists around the country.

Obviously, journalists on the news side who cover the media, or Congress, should stay away. But why should the vast majority of reporters and editors who cover the arts, transportation, sports, and the suburbs be silent while their profession is dismantled?

This is a non-partisan issue that is at the heart of American democracy. At the very least I believe journalists can speak out on media concentration in general terms. There is no need to get into the mechanics of why or how media concentration happened or can be fixed. If a journalist is not comfortable doing so individually, they need to be pushing their union, or other groups like IRE, SPJ, or ASNE to get involved.

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