Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Trouble in the Tribune

It's kind of weird that yesterday's news that the Tribune Company was filing for bankruptcy wasn't bigger news than it was. I mean, this is the company that operates the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and 10 other newspapers as well as 23 TV stations and a bunch of other "media holdings." When a company like that declares bankruptcy, you'd think that its headline on the New York Times front page would be at least slightly bigger than the headline: In a New Tux, Obama Seeks the Proper Tone.

Rather than be greeted as big news, most coverage seems to be taking the tone of: well, what did you expect? Everyone knows that newspapers are in trouble with declining readership, declining ad sales, and a general loss of revenue on all fronts. So when a huge chain like this hits the skids, it's taken as a matter of course.

I should point out that though it's filing for bankruptcy protections, Tribune is planning to continue its operations as before. (The fact that they're able to do so seems like a weird quirk in the bankruptcy code, but what do I know.) The point is, these major newspapers aren't shutting down. Yet.

The danger in my mind is that as the news gets more and more expensive, we're going to see it getting taken over by fewer and fewer mega companies. We've already been seeing that with chains like Gannett and Tribune owning scads of papers. If even the mega companies are starting to fail, we may see the rise of mega mega companies. The worry is that you'll end up with only one or two actual newspapers that just have branch offices to slap a different banner on to the same product. I can't help but think that fewer voices is not good for our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson once said that if he had to choose between having newspapers or a government, he would pick newspapers. There's no word about his preference if there's only one.

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