Will Big Media bury us?

As the FCC heads to Tampa for a national hearing, free-press activists warn that journalism — and democracy — are in danger

Page 4 of 4

Dr. Glenn Cherry, the president and CEO of the African-American-owned WTMP AM and FM stations in Tampa Bay, echoes those concerns. Big Media hasn't yet gone head-to-head with black media in Tampa Bay, but the FCC hasn't made it easy for Cherry to grow his small empire, either. He hopes to testify at Monday's hearing but admits that he's quite cynical about the process.

"I'm a little jaded by the system at this point," Cherry said. "You just wonder if you are going through the motions for something they are going to do anyway because Big Business wants it done."

Ben Eason, the owner and CEO of Creative Loafing, is also leery of Big Media's urge to converge.

"It's crazy to let them do that," he says, having seen the near-monopoly that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution holds with its broadcast partnerships in that city. Eason saw that paper's corporate attitude firsthand during a period of time that the AJC's owner, Cox Enterprises, was an investor in Creative Loafing. "It's sick," he said. "There's no way anybody's going to get another voice into that market. Maybe small ones, but no big booming voice."

Still, even the smaller papers are consolidating and converging to some degree. Cherry's company operates a weekly newspaper. Creative Loafing owns alternative weeklies in four markets and interactive websites in all of them as well. The Tampa newspaper has a marketing deal with Tampa Bay's 10 TV station to appear once a week on its Studio 10 show to discuss stories in each week's issue, as well as with Tampa Digital Studio for the production of multimedia offerings. Video and audio segments dot the CL website.

It is that kind of new media emergence, especially online, that Big Media cites in pushing for less regulation of older traditional media forms.

John Schueler, who oversees all Media General products in Tampa Bay as the president of the Florida Communications Group, offers no apologies for making money but says the company's mission is to give voice to the voiceless and build community, not tear it down. He promised a healthy turnout at the FCC hearing from local leaders who "are very familiar with us" in what he termed "a showcase market."

"There's a huge difference between homogenizing everything, having identical stories on each platform and what we do," he said. "That's not the way we see things at all. The voices [in our communities] have been magnified. We do so without fear or favor, so the journalistic side of what we do remains strong."

Schueler called it "marrying the spirit with the wallet."

The problem, many critics insist, is that the wallet has got to be pretty fat to make the conglomerates' Wall Street owners happy. Many media companies are expected to spin out profit margins in excess of 20 percent.

"The newspaper industry is in a bind today," NYU's Klinenberg said. "Clearly newspaper companies need to find a way to remain profitable. [But] a typical Fortune 500 company gets a 6 percent margin. We have to ask, 'How much regulatory relief do [media companies] need to stay afloat? What's the cost of allowing cross-ownership? Will it limit diversity of voices? Will it reduce competition in the local market?'"

Klinenberg paused. "I think there's real reason to believe it will."

More cover story:

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.