Krist Novoselic: media in transition

by Krist Novoselic, Seattle Weekly

I was invited to testify at the November 9th FCC hearing in Seattle regarding media consolidation. The event was announced on real short notice and I couldn’t change existing plans. It was tempting to go if only because of the statement given by FCC Commissioners Copps and Adelstein expressing their disapproval over the short notice. They said prior to the meeting, "A hearing with only five days notice is no nirvana for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. This smells like mean spirit."

Calling a hearing on short notice only makes any rule change proposal seem like a done deal. It’s annoying when public meetings are treated as just a procedure. Hearings are an interface between citizens and their government. Voting is another one, and that connection is suffering enough.

The current FCC proposal wants to ease the ban on a single company owning a newspaper, TV or radio station in the same market. Opponents of media consolidation fear the lack of diversity will not serve the public interest.

Turn And Face The Strange

Traditional print media is in the midst of a profound transition toward the digital realm. Like with the music industry, there’s a need for a new business model. Presenting content in different formats is part of adapting to new circumstances.

A type of merging is already happening. Newsprint media are increasingly featuring streaming audio and video content on their web sites. You can now go to a TV news station site and read a news report. It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that TV and computers will soon be one in the same.

Commuters listening in their vehicles have so far spared terrestrial radio from tumultuous change. But change will come sooner or later. There is no solid prediction on the future of radio. Indeed, many stations are offering HD services but consumers have yet to buy the capable receivers en masse. The two satellite radio providers are trying to merge. And I just became aware of WiFi radio. Other potential technologies make it hard to nail down any prognosis.

Harmonic Convergence

In Astoria Oregon, the local community radio station and the newspaper have started collaborating. It’s not cross ownership. Coast Community Radio is a non-profit entity, while the Daily Astorian is part of a privately owned Northwest business. They both offer local, national and international news.

Astorian reporters have started to host local issue programs on the radio. They also provide local briefs between NPR news segments. Original audio content is broadcast over the radio and webcast on the papers web site. These programs mostly feature interviews with local officials or people engaged in cultural affairs.

Cooperation between this traditional media is also carrying professional ethics over to the wild frontier of on-line commentary.

And as far as the public airwaves go, the collaboration is creating programming addressing the local public interest.

Consolidated Internet?

The Internet is decentralized by design. It’s naturally producing hubs of niche programming offered in various formats. The sheer vastness of choice is creating this phenomenon.

We must preserve the free flow of information on the Internet. Media consolidation, in the form of loosening cross ownership rules, is akin to the bigger issue of net-neutrality. A content neutral network will not speed up or slow down information based on its source, destination or ownership. The companies that own most of the infrastructure of the Internet want more control over the flow of data in the system. In other words, they’ll give their preferred content priority and could even block, slow down or charge fees for other information. This will result in a centralized Internet.

The media titans have to resist decentralization. A vast, and neutral, Internet offers equal opportunity, breeds innovation and fosters competition: principles anathema to the oligopoly.

(Disclosure: Krist Novoselic is a member on the Coast Community Radio board of directors.)

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey