Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Countdown to Flannery's

With just a little more than a day to go before the blogger/e-journalism gathering Thursday evening at Flannery's in the Gateway neighborhood, it looks as though we'll have at least 100 folks on hand. Which is a heartening turnout, one that suggests the groundswell of interest in these e-publishing tools is real, and not simply a figment of the sometimes painfully self-referential blogosphere's wishful thinking. But as my friend and colleague Jay Miller (of SPJ) pointed out the other evening, in our final planning conversation, "it'll be interesting to see how many writers come." Of course, he meant people who are primarily writers, primarily in print, and only incidentally bloggers... For my part, I'll also be interested to see the ratio of writers to webheads to bloggers to merely interested parties, but I'll be far more attuned to the hopelessly blurry distinctions between all those categories, as these worlds increasingly converge (at least from where I sit).

But with the push on for tomorrow's event, I've of course neglected you some, dear reader. And so here's a roundup of some small items I've kept in the pantry, awaiting my next post.

One item is directly tied to tomorrow's event, and that is the growing outrage over the FCC's vote next week on new rules that would make it easier for large media conglomerates to further consolidate, leaving fewer media voices. The three Republicans, led by chairman Mike (I am not my father's man) Powell, have already signaled their intention to vote yes, ignoring the FCC's clear mandate to pay attention first to the public's interest and not simply to media companies' understandable urge to consolidate. Nevertheless, the two Dems are making a valiant effort to barnstorm the country with their own public meetings (which the arrogant Powell has dismissed as akin to a 19th century whistlestop tour), doing their best to stir up righteous grassroots indignation. And it's beginning to work.
The Center for Public Integrity and its relentless chief muckracker (former ABC producer Charles Lewis, who just might be the most effective investigative reporter in the country) has banged away with some good work on the FCC's coziness with the industry it's supposed to regulate. Most interesting of all, it has developed a searchable database of ownership information on virtually every radio and TV station and telephone company in the country, searchable by ZIP code. That means we now have an web-based successor to the venerable book Media Monopoly, by Ben Bagdikian, now in its sixth edition even as the poor old guy is past 80 and thus hard-pressed to keep up on the ever-consolidating media giants. And the wonderful (funded by a national treasure, the Florence and John Schumann Foundation, which also backs PBS's Frontline series, Bill Moyers' stubbornly brilliant work and the Columbia Journalism Review, among others) has spent lavishly on a barbed ad on the op-ed page of the Times, pointedly challenging Powell's credibility and independence. has helped inundate Capitol Hill in hundreds of thousands of petitions on the subject.
And this Washington Post story hit the front page today. Reluctant to rely solely on short media dispatches about the most recent hearing, at FCC HQ, I rose just before 5 a.m. this morning to watch the full C-Span coverage of the hearing (thanks to another national media treasure, C-Span founder and oft-ridiculed non-sophisticate Hoosier Brian Lamb). And it was an eye-opener. In all my years of watching capital goings-on, I've rarely seen a minority member of a usually-collegial independent agency lash out so furiously at a fellow member, as did commissioner Michael Copps at Chairman Powell, who of course wasn't in attendance. He characterized Powell's dismissive response to the growing opposition as "telling them to go pound salt." He also openly invited opponents to either take his own agency to court or try to stir up Congressional opposition to overrule it, or both. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary tactics, it would seem.
Still, the American media has been quite late to cover this outrage, a decision that's been slowly simmering toward a bad outcome for well over a year, given that it delves so deeply into its own ownership structure. And without coverage, citizen participation is far tougher (which is of course the point of more ownership diversity): when the two dissident commissioners took their road show to Phoenix recently, the advance publicity had been so muted that they found but a lone citizen on hand. Asked how he learned of the event, the fellow responded that he'd seen it on the BBC!!

And finally, I bring you a brief but meaningful exchange from NPR's All Things Considered, the day after the NBA lottery in which the Cavs won the right to pick Lebron James first in the draft. In that casual way that even the most earnest bi-coastals can write off all but 10% of the country (prompting Roldo Bartimole to once grumble within earshot that even a magazine called The Nation ignores most of it), host Robert Seigel asked his guest, Wall Street Journal sports reporter Stefan Fatsis "is it bad for the NBA that this newest superstar, if he's indeed to be that, will be playing in Cleveland rather than New York or L.A.?" Stefan completely rejected the premise. Not at all, he said. "It's great, cause a league is only a strong as its weakest franchise...and now the NBA has one more franchise whose jersey it can sell all over the world."
And Chris Thompson, please note: you won't find the term NEO or Northeast Ohio anywhere on that jersey...


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