FCC Commissioner Michael Copps: "American Media Has a Bad Case of Substance Abuse"
publication date: Dec 8, 2010
Most people didn't notice or care that my syndicated newspaper column has been in decline. If my syndicated column were a stock, I'd have no hesitation with saying it's been in a long-term bear market!
I've seen it coming for years so it's not surprising that newspapers here and there have dropped the column. It's not me or my column that's the "problem" but the impact that the Internet has had on newspapers in general. Some newspapers have gone under while others have merged. The bottom line is that there's much less content being produced by daily newspapers.
FCC Commissioner Copps' Comments
On December 1, 2010, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps made some pointed comments about his perceived decline of the American news media. And, he tied this supposed decline to concerns about the future of democracy:
"It's a pretty serious situation that we're in. I think American media has a bad case of substance abuse right now. We are not producing the body of news and information that democracy needs to conduct its civic dialogue, we're not producing as much news as we did five years, 10 years, 15 years ago and we have to reverse that trend or I think we are going to be pretty close to denying our citizens the essential news and information that they need to have in order to make intelligent decisions about the future direction of their country."
Could Copps have had my syndicated newspaper column in mind when he made his comments? I doubt it but his comments could apply to my column. And, much as I'd like to argue the harm done to Americans' financial future because fewer folks have access to my column through their local newspapers, I'm not going to make that argument!
Copps, in my humble opinion, is either clueless about the world of news or he's a political ideologue who isn't happy with the changing landscape that he's seeing.
If you read his biography as posted on the FCC web site, it's pretty clear what his political orientation is. He's clearly a liberal. Even liberal media outlets confess that.
In a November, 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times, the paper entitled the piece, "Copps, a liberal voice on the FCC, knows how to get his message out." In that article, the paper cited Copps as follows:
The public airwaves, he says, are filled with "too much baloney passed off as news." The Republican-led FCC is so lax that "unless you're a child abuser or a wife beater, it's a slam-dunk" to renew a TV station license. "Our country is paying a dreadful cost for this quarter-century fling with government abdication and media irresponsibility," he said this year.
Copps doesn't grant many interviews to U.S. media outlets. He has appeared numerous times, however, on Bill Moyers' PBS program. (It's no secret that Moyers is far to the left politically.)
Why Copps Is Wrong
When I grew up, the media world was much simpler. Most Americans got their news through a daily newspaper delivered to their home and through network news programs on CBS, NBC or ABC. We didn't have the Internet, we didn't have cable television and we didn't have political talk radio.
When Copps says that less news is being produced, he is simply wrong. Now, of course, compared to when I grew up, we've got many, many more news outlets. Fewer people get their news now through traditional outlets like daily newspapers and the three major broadcast television networks. And, that's because more people are getting their news online, through the many cable television stations and through talk radio.
What Copps is really saying but is afraid to say is that he doesn't like politically flavored news - otherwise known as opinion. The mainstream media in "the good old days" certainly wasn't non-partisan. It's been well demonstrated and documented by former CBS executive Bernie Goldberg among other studies that the traditional media tilts left.
I've argued that "Partisans Are Hazardous to Your Wealth" and that there's a great danger in getting what you think is news and information from a program labeled as news that in fact is hosted by a partisan. There's clearly a market for opinion programs and as long as they are labeled as such, last I checked we live in America not Russia so thank goodness for the First Amendment!
Accessing Financial Content
If I solely focused on the slow demise of my newspaper column, I could attempt to argue as Copps has that folks are worse off due to the decline in content. But, that's simply not true when you factor in new distribution channels and the fact that those channels are helping to reduce the cost of delivering content. You're reading this column on the Internet which enables content providers to deliver content quicker and more efficiently and at less cost.
As consumers, don't we want more choices and lower cost?
That's not to say, of course, that the Internet or any other medium isn't without its drawbacks. I've warned you in prior columns about the perils of free content, lack of editorial oversight and kickbacks (affiliate fees) tainting online recommendations.
More choices and lower costs don't mean that risks and drawbacks have been eliminated.