By Nish Amarnath
Columbia Journalism School ’12
In 1983, the majority of American newspapers, book, publishers, broadcast stations, music labels and movie studios was controlled by 50 companies, according to “The New Media Monopoloy,” a book by the journalist and media watchdog Ben Bagdikian. Today, it’s down to six.
Whether this kind of media consolidation is necessarily bad for the public discourse is a matter of debate. Proponents of consolidation say it creates efficiencies that lead to lower costs for consumers. Critics argue that it limits the number of voices and disproportionately silences racial minorities and women.
Last week, a panel of journalists and academics gathered at the Columbia Business School to discuss the effects of media consolidation on the products, the corporations and the general discourse.
Timothy Wu, a copyright and communications law professor at Columbia Law School and an advisor at the Federal Trade Commission, said consolidation could hurt the market’s efficiency by blocking the entry of new, innovative players.
“Most important technologies are often disruptive – that is, they destroy whatever is in place before them,” Wu said. “And the fact is that bigger things can be much harder to destroy.”
Noam, who has studied consolidation around the world, said the media in France, China South Africa and Egypt were more concentrated than in the U.S., the U.K. and India. He added that media concentration reflects poorly on the government and has an adverse effect on democracy.
Jonathan Knee, a managing director at Evercore Partners and director of the media program at the Columbia Business School, said there could be a strategic advantage to staying small or even shrinking.
“Both from a business and public policy perspective, you might get actually smaller by spinning off things that are irrelevant,” he said. He added that streamlining operations could help media companies grow their core businesses and make them more relevant.
The panel, entitled “Is Big Media Bad Media?” was held at the Columbia Business School. James B. Stewart, a columnist for The New York Times columnist and a business journalism professor at Columbia, was also among the panelists.