Friday, December 29, 2006

Big Victory for Net Neutrality

AT&T, battling to complete its $85 billion merger with BellSouth in the face of opposition from the two Democrats on the FCC, agreed last night to strict network neutrality safeguards. Columbia law professor Tim Wu explains why the agreement is so important for the future of the internet.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Strong Overview of Tribune Maneuverings

I just came across this detailed overview of the wheeling-and-dealing of Morning Call parent Tribune Co.....

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sins of Omission

The Call's post-announcement coverage of the gambling license story has been surprisingly spotty and otherwise breathless. I keep scanning the headlines, looking for analysis of reactions, regional impact, and, in particular, the implications for Allentown. The Allentown angle is especially important, as Ed Rendell's announcement-eve $18 million gift to Bethlehem seemed timed to influence the board and--taken together with the Bethlehem nod--a sucker punch aimed at the state's third-largest city. On this point LVCurmudgeon's post is a must-read.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Important: Media Ownership Forum In Philly 1/18

A Media Ownership Forum is coming to Philadelphia on January 18 (see details below), and Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein have committed to attend!

Media Action LV will send at least one car-full of activists to the event, so please email Media Action LV if you are interested...

When: January 18, 6pm
Where: Temple University, Gladfelter Hall

The event is sponsored by various Philadelphia-based media reform groups, including Media Tank, Prometheus Radio Project, PennPIRG and the Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association are planning a Media Ownership Forum in Philadelphia on January 18, 2007 at Temple University, from 6 to 9pm.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Update on Morning Call Parent Company

Today's New York Times has an update on the ongoing effort to sell the Tribune Company, the Morning Call's corporate parent. The Chandler family, which had owned the Call, the LA Times and other papers before selling to Tribune, is reportedly interested in purchasing Tribune's newspapers. The family's motive appears, however, to be strictly mercenary, and not some larger sense that the papers have a public interest obligation.

Morning Call fails again!

We might disagree on the significance of the following events, but I think it is strange -- astonishing, really -- that The Morning Call failed to report any of them, although they were notified in advance and, in at least one case, had a reporter on the scene.

* On July 19, the Mayors of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, the first in this region to do so. (Over 330 cities throughout the U.S have signed; the only other cities in PA to sign are Philadelphia and Erie.)

* On October 15, the County Executives of Lehigh and Northampton Counties signed a similar Climate Protection Agreement for counties -- the first counties to do so -- making this the only region where cities and counties have united in their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to protect us from global warming.

* This Monday, December 11, the Bethlehem Area School District adopted a Climate Protection Agreement that pledges the district to a variety of efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

Why would a responsible newspaper fail to report when local officials take important positive steps? (Do they only want to report problems?)

Does The Morning Call expect us to report the news via letters to the editor?

Is it any surprise that newspaper circulation declines in proportion to their coverage of local news?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Morning Call's Irresponsible Allentown Coverage

Here was the Morning Call's lede in its December 5 arrest follow-up of a homicide in center city Allentown the day before:
It's become a familiar scene in center city Allentown.
The "familiar scene", according to the Call? Murder in downtown Allentown.

It's one of the most consistent findings in media research that heavy media consumers grossly overestimate the rate of crime. (We all do; it's just that heavy media consumers assume the world's even more dangerous than the rest of us.) Crime is far less prevelant than we think.

The problem is that this distortion--and the inflammatory, 'if it bleeds it leads' style of coverage--has the potential to become self-fulfillng. The picture of downtown Allentown in the heads of most Lehigh Valley residents comes from the Call and Channel 69. The more they believe that murder is a "familiar scene"--however ridiculous as a claim to reality--the less likely they will venture downtown. They will warn off newcomers, and urge their downtown friends to leave. The downtown--which hardly needs an additional challenge--may become more unsafe, as the unintended consequence of a media distortion.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of perception to the health of any neighborhood. And most people's perception of American cities--Allentown included--comes from the images that we see and the stories we read in the media.

So what are the homicide figures for 2006? With three weeks or so remaining in the year, Allentown has 14 homicides. 2005? 21 (a record). And the past few years (the only that I could track down data for)?:

2004: 11
2003: 12
2002: 9
2001: 8
2000: 9
1999: 11

There are, of course, too many murders in Allentown, and the city's ongoing police hiring should help.

But murder as a "familiar scene"?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Nobel winner calls for new 'social business' legal category

Muhammad Yunus, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner and micro-credit pioneer, proposed a new legal category in his acceptance speech over the weekend: the social business. Could something like this be adopted as a model for newspaper and other media ownership?

Here's the key passage from the New York Times' coverage of the speech:
He called for legal recognition of a new category of corporation that would be neither profit-maximizing nor nonprofit. It would be a “social business,” like Grameen Bank, the Dhaka-based microcredit institution he started 30 years ago. The bank has lent nearly $6 billion to help some of the poorest people on earth to start businesses, build shelters and go to school.

Grameen Bank — with which Dr. Yunus shared the prize today — is an interest-charging, profit-making business with more than 2,200 branches. But it is owned primarily by its poor clients and run for their benefit. Similarly structured institutions, he said, could bring health care, information technology, education and energy to the poor without requiring infusions of aid.

“By defining ‘entrepreneur’ in a broader way, we can change the character of capitalism radically and solve many of the unresolved social and economic problems within the scope of the free market,” he said.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chandler Family Calls for Community Ownership

A cruical question for our time is whether the news media's public interest obligations can coexist with the market's demands for maximized profits.

In a surprising development, a prominent member of the Chandler family--onetime owners of the LA Times until the paper (and other Chandler properties including the Morning Call) got bought up by Chicago's Tribune Co.--has concluded that community ownership is the only feasible arrangment to keep newspapers serving the public.

In a recent LA Times op-ed column, Harry Chandler (namesake of the Times founder) pointed to the ruthless profit expecations of publicly traded companies, and acknowledged that the once-exciting experiments in local-magnate buy ups (e.g., the Philly Inquirer), have turned sour for the same profit-seeking resons. Here's Chandler:

Maybe it is best to look beyond corporate or private equity owners. Like professional sports teams, newspapers are trophy properties, able to create instant stature for their owners. The price is usually less-than double-digit returns. Perhaps a "benevolent billionaire" will rescue The Times. Sadly, my family trust appears not to be interested.

Another sports ownership example worth contemplating is community ownership, like that of the Green Bay Packers football team. Article I of its bylaws states, "This association shall be a community project, intended to promote community welfare ... its purposes shall be exclusively charitable." Sound appealing? If 20% of Times readers invest $1,000, it could work. I'll write the first check for the Los Angeles Times Community Owners LLC.

It's worth repeating that the Trib Co. (including the LA Times and our own Morning Call) is on the block....