At the end of last year, we wrote about the decision of the Detroit newspapers to go to a 3 day a week publication schedule, and asked the question that we had heard posed by a writer for one of the communications trade publications – "will the FCC rules limiting the cross-ownership of broadcast stations and daily newspapers outlive the newspaper itself." In the last few weeks, that question has become even more relevant. The FCC’s decision to relax the cross-ownership restrictions in December 2007 drew widespread condemnation from many big-media opponents, and even attempts to overturn the decision, even though its direct effect was limited to the nation’s largest markets. One now wonders whether, with the current economic condition of newspapers and broadcast stations, the rules should not be revisited, for purposes of further relaxing those rules, not tightening them.
In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a major newspaper in Denver stop its presses for the last time, and companies owning papers in many major markets, including Minneapolis, Philadelphia and New Haven, all declare bankruptcy. At the same time, papers in San Francisco and Seattle have warned that they may also shut down if there are not significant savings found or new buyers. Even venerable papers like the New York Times have been the subject of shut-down rumors, and the Wall Street Journal and other papers in the Rupert Murdoch empire have been said to be dragging down the profits of the News Corporation.
With television stations also suffering from the economy, and with changing audience demands (with media choice eroding television audiences for traditional network fare, see this article in the New York Times), the fears of media concentration seem to be a relic of some past economic reality. It will be interesting to see if the FCC addresses these issues in the coming months, or if in fact the writer’s musings will be proven true – and the FCC’s rule against the cross-ownership of television stations and newspapers will outlive the newspaper.