WHY THE MEDIA SUCKS 


;It starts like this: A copy of the Orlando Sentinel smacks against the doorstep in the morning, boasting a huge bold headline that reads "Why Wasn't He Stopped?" above an Associated Press feed on what went wrong at Virginia Tech. Immediately beneath the story is a locally written piece titled "Shootings Shatter Illusion of Safety in Florida."

;

;At 4 p.m., WESH-TV Channel 2 anchors Wendy Chioji and Martha Sugalski kick into their early newscast with a localized take on the shootings, including a discussion with a "security expert" about what went wrong. The expert, Michael Sheehan of NBC News Network, offers Chioji comments about "what we do know" followed by indictments that there was indeed a "very weak response."

;

;At 5 p.m., Channel 2 runs a piece on what universities are doing to keep the mentally ill from doing something similar here, and another on "a local family linked to the Virginia Tech massacre."

;

;Over on Local 6 stories about "grotesque and morbid writings" and "an angry stepson" lead the coverage of the massacre. Anchor Jacqueline London segues into a story that includes the victims' families and, locally, a Rollins vigil for the victims.

;

;WFTV Channel 9 sees Bob Opsahl warn of an imminent emergency meeting on Florida campus security. On Fox 35: security and the University of Central Florida campus.

;

;If you feel there's little discernible difference between one local broadcast media outlet and the next, if you think there must be one giant newsroom somewhere producing the content and spitting it out over local airwaves, you're not alone. And you're not far from wrong. Many critics of the continuing trend of centralized ownership of media feel the same way, and they're gathering at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center April 30 to let the federal government know they don't like what they're seeing and hearing.

;

; This will be the fourth of six hearings mandated by a federal court following the Federal Communications Commission's approval of media deregulation in 2003, a decision that was challenged by the Prometheus Radio Project. The result of that challenge was that the FCC had to revisit its regulatory provisions, which a judge called "arbitrary and capricious."

;

;"It's this sort of weird cross-homogenization," says Brad Ashwell, a legislative advocate for the Florida Public Interest Research Group in Tallahassee. "One of the problems with media getting bigger and more centralized on the national and even international levels is that you have fewer newsrooms. You have these centralized newsrooms that farm out more national content."

;

;The FCC itself commissioned a study in 2004 that concluded centralized ownership of television news outlets had produced five or more minutes fewer local news per half-hour than with locally owned networks, contradicting their own arguments from the year before. They sat on the information. It took Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. – via a leak from an insider – to bring the study to light and call deregulation into question.

;

;At the time the FCC was led by staunch deregulation advocate Michael Powell. Today, the commission is chaired by Kevin Martin, the Republican who helped coordinate George Bush's last presidential campaign in Florida.

;

;"I think he's a little more tricky," says Ashwell. "It seems like he's a little more politically savvy."

;

;Trickier still is getting people interested in the topic of media deregulation. But what may seem like a cerebral affair is actually right there in your face every day, says Gavin Baker, a political science major at the University of Florida who has put together a campus workshop to draw students to the Tampa event.

;

;"I think it connects with people, because people intuitively understand that the media sucks," he says. "They see what's on TV, they hear what's on the radio, and it sucks. That's why people are fleeing the mainstream media in record numbers, going and taking their eyeballs somewhere else."

;

;Our very own media market provides an excellent example of why homogenized media does indeed suck; just four companies control 82 percent of the entire news market here, according to the nonpartisan Free Press organization. Cox Enterprises Inc. owns six radio stations and two television stations, WFTV Channel 9 and its partner, WRDQ Channel 27. Clear Channel Communications Inc. owns seven radio stations.

;

;The Tribune Company, corporate parent of the Orlando Sentinel (along with 26 licensed television stations in 16 states, one licensed radio station, and 16 newspapers in eight states, including the flagship Chicago Tribune) is also a major broadcast player here. The influence of the Sentinel on the airwaves is inescapable.

;;In 1997 the Sentinel partnered with Time Warner to launch Central Florida News 13 as a 24-hour cable news channel with shared resources. Because it was a cable channel, it was exempt from FCC regulations. And although the Sentinel sold its interest in the channel in 2004 to Bright House Networks, the newspaper maintains a presence on the air by putting its staffers on Central Florida News 13 shows. They also maintain a weather partnership with WFTV (with whom they also share members of their sports staff for Sunday Sports Night) and a limited content partnership with WESH (mostly consisting of joint online polls). The monopoly daily in this town is well- ;positioned.

;

;; "There are different topical things that we will get involved with either radio outlets or television," says Orlando Sentinel Communications spokeswoman Ashley Allen. "It kind of depends on the particular topic, whether there is an opportunity for one plus one to equal three. That's really always been our strategy."

;

;There's a history of these agreements, says Jim Tracy, an assistant professor of media studies at Florida Atlantic University. "Joint operating agreements that newspapers vied for back in the late '60s provided them with the ability to arguably – they used one printing outlet, and there were two newspapers: a morning and an evening – be tied at the hip. It all comes back to using the least number of people possible. This is the term that's used, and it's not a new term: multimedia. Which essentially means we don't necessarily have reporters anymore."

;

;The FCC has been relaxing regulation for decades. In the '70s, the "7-7-7" rule used to be the standard: A company could not own more than seven television stations, seven AM stations and seven FM stations nationwide. By the time the Telecommunications Act of 1996 came along, the FCC was regulating ownership by percentage of national audience, rather than number of outlets. Prior to the Telecommunications Act no company could own outlets that served more than 25 percent of the national audience; today that figure is up to 35 percent.

;

;"It's common only because the rules allow for it," says United States Public Interest Research Group staff attorney Amina Fazlullah, who points out that one of the immediate consequences of further consolidation is that during crucial moments, like the recent tornadoes, the public radio airwaves may still be playing music.

;

;"It happens especially in smaller communities," Fazlullah continues. "I think one of the problems is people referencing the advent of the Internet or blogs, and it's just not true. If you think about it logically, people don't go online to find out about local news, and if they do, they go to their local newspaper's site or television station's site. It's not competing with the Internet, or at the very least it isn't yet."

;

;While the hearings may be an exercise in going through the motions for the FCC, they are still an opportunity to be heard.

;

;"The fish never discovered water," says Tracy. "You're desensitized to it, and I think that the authority of news institutions, newspapers, whatever the case may be, they seem to naturalize themselves. Which I think makes citizens think that, ‘Well, it can't be contested.'"

;

;"Most people are not even aware that the public owns the airwaves," he adds.

; bmanes@orlandoweekly.com

Tags: ,

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

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

Calendar

© 2016 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation