Cronkite: Quest for profits
crippling media companies
By Associated Press
Florida Sun-Sentinel " -- -- NEW YORK
-- Pressures by media companies to generate ever-greater
profits are threatening the very freedom the nation was
built upon, former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite
In a keynote address at Columbia University, Cronkite
said today's journalists face greater challenges than
those from his generation. No longer could journalists
count on their employers to provide the necessary
resources, he said, ``to expose truths that powerful
politicians and special interests often did not want
Instead, he said, ``they face rounds and rounds of job
cuts and cost cuts that require them to do ever more
with ever less.''
``In this information age and the very complicated world
in which we live today, the need for high-quality
reporting is greater than ever,'' he told journalism
students and professionals at Columbia's Graduate School
of Journalism. ``It's not just the journalist's job at
risk here. It's American democracy. It is freedom.''
Cronkite said news accuracy has declined because of
consolidations and closures that have left many American
towns with only one newspaper. And as broadcasters cut
budgets and air time for news, he said, ``we're all left
with a sound bite culture that turns political campaigns
into political theater.''
The former anchor urged owners of media companies _
newspapers and broadcast alike _ to recognize they have
special civil responsibilities.
``Consolidation and cost cutting may be good for the
bottom line in the short term but that isn't necessarily
good for the country or the health of the news business
in the long term,'' he said.
Michael Copps, a commissioner on the Federal
Communications Commission, later said that looser
broadcast regulations _ such as those that had required
stations to regularly prove they serve the community
interest _ have resulted in less local coverage, less
diversity of opinion and fewer jobs for journalists over
the past quarter century.
Without directly naming the nation's largest radio
station operator, Clear Channel Communications Inc.,
Copps complained that many local musicians were being
pushed aside when ``media behemoths'' distribute
playlists from a central office.
The FCC is considering relaxing the rules even more. The
agency decided in June to reopen the hotly disputed
issue of ownership limits, which currently restrict the
number of radio and television stations that one owner
can have as well as cross-ownership between newspapers
Many of the broadcast television networks and large
media companies such as the Tribune Co. and Gannett Co.
have complained that current restrictions are outmoded
in a digital age in which consumers also have the
Internet and cable TV from which to choose.
Considering television alone, the nation saw the number
of major networks grow from three to five, said Benjamin
Compaine, author of ``Who Owns the Media?: Competition
and Concentration in the Mass Media.'' Add to that
several 24-hour news channels on cable, he said.
But opponents of loosened rules worry that changes would
hurt minorities' access to the airwaves, curtail
children's and local programming and limit musical
``We have more outlets now, more in sheer numbers,
engaged in news presentation than we've ever had,'' said
Tom Rosenstiel, a former political reporter for the Los
Angeles Times and now director of the Project for
Excellence in Journalism. ``The problem is most of them
are not engaged in a lot of serious news gathering. They
are largely engaged in repackaging material that other
people have produced.''
Ownership questions aside, Kathleen Carroll, executive
editor of The Associated Press, said that getting news
to report on has become increasingly difficult, even as
individuals have more outlets online and elsewhere in
which to distribute information.
She said cities and states have passed more than 1,000
laws affecting access to public records in the wake of
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The United States
and other governments around the world are also raising
``That's a very troubling trend,'' she said, ``and it's
one where I think whatever your view is about who owns
the media, who's a journalist, none of us can get this
Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel