The business model of the mainstream media is rapidly approaching the point at which it will become economically unsustainable. Ads and subscriptions are the primary revenue source for newspapers and magazines. The internet does advertising better and cheaper, both nationally and locally, and subscriptions increasingly make less sense when most publications share the same print content for free on their own websites.
Radio news remains more stable, but its business model too is badly endangered by the internet. Radio news was valuable primarily because it was available anywhere on the go and because it was up to the minute. The internet does both of those better. The rise of smartphones and satellite radio will continue to chip away at the radio market as well.
None of this is breaking news. The death of print has been talked about for ages. Major newspapers have shut down and entire newspaper chains have lost billions in value. Even the New York Times is afraid and cutting back, and when the New York Times cuts back, the rest of the industry heads for the ledges. Network news is facing aging demographics, and so are most newspapers. Radio chains too are finding themselves in trouble and headed for bankruptcy court.
With no economic basis for their survival, the media is increasingly defending their existence on the grounds that they represent a social good. This usually includes a lot of high minded phrases about being a free press being the watchdog of a free society, which is an argument that would carry more weight if we actually had a free press. Instead what we have is a small collection of major corporations with extensive media holdings who unashamedly and unapologetically promoted a liberal agenda.
Naturally these same people argue that promoting a liberal agenda is a social good. And that is something they are free to believe, so long as they don't then attempt to claim that they represent a free press. Free speech includes all forms of opinion and bias, but the mainstream media is nothing more than a bunch of huge corporations that have used their monopolistic powers to throttle competition, and in the case of the New York Times even to seize private land in order to build their headquarters, and promote a single filtered agenda. That is certainly not what the Founders had in mind in the way of a free press.
Instead the media has increasingly become indivisible from government, when that government leans to the left. And after helping anoint Obama into office, they have their hand out for a bailout of their own. Such a state of affairs is actually the opposite of the Constitutional idea of a free press, which is a press that is independent of government, not dependent on government. While there is a great deal of talk about a Military Industrial complex, the real threat is a Media-Academic complex, in which liberals have used their cultural and educational sway to enforce their viewpoint as a consensus.
The media has given the government its backing, and now they want some backing of their own for their bankrupt business model. That is how politics works. But it's not how business is meant to work. Bailouts can't save Wall Street from its own corruption, or the American automobile industry from the UAW and its own incompetence, and it cannot save the media from a dying business model.
The dream of so many in the mainstream media is to transform their private corporations into publicly funded corporations like PBS or NPR, giving America the BBC times a thousand. Naturally the whole thing can be paid by simply taxing the remaining corporations that won't go along with the drill, an idea already proposed officially by Mark Lloyd, the FCC's Diversity Czar. Naturally the idea has nothing to do with diversity. There are plenty of stations aimed at black and hispanic listeners, and they have a healthier future ahead of them than Air America or NPR. It's about merging the media and the state, and it's an idea that is doomed to fail.
Much as the media may repeatedly bark and snap at the internet, the idea of unofficial and unsanctioned bloggers doing their job for them, at their scams and scandals hitting the big time and their generally lazy reporting being fact checked... that is only the beginning. Time and tide wait for no man, and neither do social and technological revolutions.
The power of the media has been intimately tied up with the monopoly of a given medium. Radio and TV stations come with a built in monopoly thanks to the FCC. Newspapers are protected by the sheer expense required to put out a newspaper. But the internet is a medium that drastically reduces expenses and increases access. It's the sort of wonderland that so many journalists claimed would bring on a new era of human communications, only to recoil in horror at the realization that their media monopoly is ending.
Technology allowed local newspapers to go global, and let individual corporations set programming for thousands of radio and TV stations nationwide. The internet represents an equally profound leap, but one that depends least on costly physical infrastructure. The media no longer holds a monopoly on the public or on the news. And what that really means is that they no longer hold a monopoly on public opinion.
Centrally managed news allowed a single newspaper such as the New York Times to set entire trends and create a consensus, as smaller papers waited to see what lines influential columnists and critics would take on a politician, a song or a movie. That consensus has now crumbled into chaos. It takes a timetable based on privileged insiders who gain access to material first and then define the official response to it, to create that consensus. And that timetable depends on a hierarchy of access that the internet has badly eroded. The media still does its best to keep the hierarchy going, but like Louis XVI or Czar Nicholas II in their palaces going on with the routines of royalty as if nothing had changed, while all the talk outside was of turmoil and revolution, the world has passed them by and soon the palaces will stand empty.
The mainstream media is dying. The Obama campaign may go down as the death blow of a herd of vicious and powerful dinosaurs who once seemed to blot out the sun, but now find themselves headed irreversibly toward extinction. But though the media may have helped lift the crown to the head of Barack the First, they did it at the cost of stripping away their last shreds of credibility. Their coverage of Obama was a running joke even during the campaign. It has only become more absurd since then. And that is only fitting, as the major media corporations choose to perish not as reporters, but as liberal activists, above all else.
Over 200 years later, it is still open to debate whether Americans have been blessed with enough common sense to hold off the liars. But the great companies of liars who have for so long held sway over the minds of men, the blowdried anchors sitting in their chairs and the puffed up publishers polishing their awards, are going slowly and unwillingly into the lands of memory. The world has passed them by, and no longer does one need a masthead or a radio station to tell others what to think. That ironically is one of the things that the Obama campaign demonstrated, employing viral propaganda to great effect. The rise of Obama is the last great work the ink stained wretches have lent their hand to. The curtain is falling on their wretched show and it is past time to put the mainstream media out of its misery.