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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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April 3, 2008 9:40 PM

Murrow Symposium

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The symposium has ended, which means I am back in my hotel room and finally have a chance to write. I could have used the time between the panel I was on and the dinner and award ceremony but I got sidetracked by an incredibly stimulating conversation with a fellow panelist.

I wish some of the journalism students could have sat in on the chat I had with Mary Hawkins, who works at the Murrow school and has a background in public broadcasting. It was a deep and wide discussion about journalism, journalists, egos, war, and external and internal pressures that shape news coverage and judgement.

Not to take away from the panel we were on, but I found our sidebar the highlight of my day on the Palouse. The panel discussion was about the Federal Communications Commission and media concentration. Hawkins and I were there to argue the negative side of consolidation. The pro side was represented by Jon Rand general manager of the FOX affiliate in Spokane, and Steve Smith editor of the Spokesman-Review.

The panel discussion would have probably improved had there been more than 40 minutes. There were some interesting points raised. I said that the FCC should not be junking its cross-ownership rules while the press in such a state of flux, and that whatever happens I intend to see The Seattle Times through to its future form, noting that it might be online. Smith followed up saying that the future of newspapers is not online but that it would not be print either. He then added that the government should not be interfering with his company's right to use the medium it needs to survive. The free market argument. Time ran out before I could follow up on what he meant by online not being the future.

Readers of this blog and editorial page know what I think about a free market approach to the press. Not a big fan. The press is too important to American democracy to let ride on the free market. Who wins on the free market? Anybody with a lot of money, which for the most part means big corporations. Big publicly traded corporations do not do journalism well. They are not set up to do so. The first responsibility for a publicly traded company is fiduciary. Shareholders need a return. The first responsibility of any entity owning a news outlet must be journalism.

I am curious to know what you, the reader, believes. Should the press be treated like any other industry? Or should there be more discussions about how to protect the press through regulations, or incentives for independent ownership?

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