There has been a lot of discussion of late around the consolidation of media ownership and its implications for ‘free press’ in Australia and the rest of the world. News Limited looking to increase its stake in Foxtel and FoxSports is the most current example of this.
However right now I think that in many ways we have far too much media, too much media that effectively report on the same things, taken from the same sources, published at the same time.
There is no doubt media consolidation will most probably irreversibly damage true investigative reporting, given that pageview driven investment will make investigative, or any long form reporting, seem like a negative ROI outcome. However the same pageview dominated approach has resulted in too many media outlets effectively reporting the same thing.
My feeling is it sort of works like this. There are probably 5 credible outlets in each category that truly break news, influence opinion and set the agenda. And this is globally. Across most things people are interested in – ie, rock music, world news, movies, gossip, dance music, entertainment, business, finance, advertising, technology, fashion, basketball, AFL, NFL, EPL, cycling etc etc.
Then there are about 300 hanger-on publications that exist to effectively re-report the news and views published on these 2-3 sites. This is either done by wire companies re-reporting and selling the summaries, or its by writers/editors sitting on twitter and waiting to cut and paste.
You see evidence of this all the time. Pitchfork will report something about a hyped band. 30 mins later 30 other publications have reported the same thing. 2 hours later 100 have. A day later everyone has. It’s the same with business – the WSJ will report a proposed deal … then 30 mins later the article is paraphrased and published. It keeps going and going. Ultimately the winner is the site with the best SEO.
It means information moves quickly. Even fake info. A few months back Mess&Noise made a story up about Jet releasing a best of which acknowledged the Pitchfork review of their second album on the cover, complete with mocked up fake Amazon listing. Within about 30 mins another Australian music site had reported it, citing the same Amazon page. Problem was the story was complete bullshit.
Anyway – a competitive media ownership landscape is really only good for everyone if it creates diversity. If everyone is reporting the same stuff, wouldn’t it just be easier to consolidate these 300 odd music sites into 2-3? Or these 100 business/finance sites into 4 or 5? Do we really need 1,000 different websites reporting on Kim Kardashian’s Twitter feed … or do we just need the Twitter feed?
In most of these cases we are oversupplied, and advertisers and users would benefit by consolidation. Advertisers would have access to a larger audience and less transaction points, and users would benefit from more successful media companies who could invest more into content creation.
Right now, media is so competitive it is becoming hard for anyone to really invest in content beyond what they’re doing. All that is creating is more of the same, more cheap content driven by reporting others quickly. Much of the money that could be going into creating content is going into SEO to index the content.
Right now media is over supplied. Especially online. We have too much choice but too little quality. Imagine what would happen if the publications that really broke news and drove discussion managed to see the majority of traffic their work created, instead of bottom feeders re-reporting them and taking the SEO juice? I’d imagine we’d see overall an improvement in quality and ultimately more choice.