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.
March 6, 2008 3:30 PM
Posted by Ryan Blethen
The Anniston Star, one of America's great family owned newspapers, is running a series about the impact of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The series, which can be found here and was penned by the newspaper's editor at large John Fleming, shows readers the negative results the legislation has had on northeast Alabama.
Fleming's use of local examples is powerful and should grab the attention of readers. And not just in Alabama. His findings of absentee ownership and degraded local news has become the norm across the nation since 1996.
Take for example this passage:
On a recent evening, as foul weather moved into the Anniston area and the sirens begin to sound, some residents reached for their radios and tuned to WDNG-AM/1450. Instead of weather information, what they got was the middle of what one listener later described as a "Levin rant" about the conservative shortcomings of John McCain and Huckabee.
No doubt it was interesting subject matter. But with a tornado possibly imminent, Anniston listeners probably would have preferred to hear a weather update.
The storm blew over, causing only heartburn. But the incident again raises the question:
If local media no longer is local, how does it fulfill one of its most essential roles: informing the community in times of peril?
This scenario is a reality for any community that could be hit by a natural disaster and has a couple of conglomerates owning all or nearly all its radio stations.
Fleming's reporting also demonstrates the good of local ownership. Doubtful the Anniston Star would tackle this subject if it was owned by a distant conglomerate with little interest in northeast Alabama except as a profit center.
The last two grafs of the series final installment is as good a summation as I have read about the importance of a dispersed, independent press.
Without revenue, the print side is indeed in trouble. But the larger issue here is not so much who covers the news, but how it is covered and to what extent and to what level of fairness or balance, if you will.
To reach deeper even, you touch what is the very best in media, to endeavor not only to inform but to encourage participatory democracy. Or put quite another way, to build within our society, local and nationally, a better citizenry.
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