FCC workshop on media ownership, in Tampa on April 20, getting little attention

At the 2007 FCC hearing in Tampa, Jon Scott Duffey of Duffey Cybercations speaks out against media consolidation.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2007)

At the 2007 FCC hearing in Tampa, Jon Scott Duffey of Duffey Cybercations speaks out against media consolidation.

Psst! Guess what?

A debate over who gets to own big media is about to break out in our own back yard. And you may not have even heard about it yet.

Which is odd, considering that when the Federal Communications Commission last came to the Tampa Bay area in 2007 to talk about media ownership, hundreds of people jammed into the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center to talk passionately about whether the same company should be allowed to own newspapers and TV stations in the same market. That's a deal called "cross-ownership."

Back then, the FCC was about to revamp its closely watched rules on media ownership and the nation's eyes fell on Tampa — where Media General owns the Tampa Tribune, NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8, news Web site TBO.com and a handful of other platforms.

The 2007 meeting drew all five FCC commissioners and a boatload of media attention. Flash forward three years, and the agency's latest discussion on the matter, scheduled at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the University of South Florida's Marshall Student Center in Tampa, seems so low key it might as well be in the witness protection program.

No FCC commissioners are coming this time. Small wonder; the FCC has seen a recent court decision raise questions over whether it can regulate broadband providers, while lobbyists and lawmakers are jockeying to see how the agency will evaluate cable giant Comcast's takeover of NBC Universal.

The Democratic-dominated FCC also just saw a court lift a ban on relaxed cross-ownership rules drafted in 2007 by the previous, Republican-dominated FCC. With a battle for unfettered Internet access and the survival of free TV hanging in the air, questions of whether one company can own a TV station and newspaper in a floundering media economy must sound terribly old school.

The Tampa session will feature a panel including Karen Brown Dunlap, president of the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times; La Gaceta publisher Patrick Manteiga; WTSP-Ch. 10 general manager Ken Tonning; and John Schueler, president of the Media General subsidiary that runs its Florida platforms, Florida Communications Group.

If you aren't able to attend, you can hear the workshop broadcast live over the Internet from the FCC Live Web page at reboot.fcc.gov/live. Users also may submit questions by e-mailing 2010quadrennial@fcc.gov or using the Twitter hash tag #MoWksp.

Here are a few reasons you should care about this issue in the age of the iPad and Hulu.com:

1 Television and newspapers are still the public's main sources of news.

A survey last year by the Pew Center for the People and the Press found 71 percent cited TV as their main source of news, followed by the Internet (42 percent) and newspapers (33 percent). But another study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism determined that 67 percent of the top online news sites were operated by old-school "legacy" media, and 48 percent by newspapers. So, despite the explosion of voices offered by online outlets, the biggest news voices in any community remain with established newspapers and TV stations.

2 It's not clear that uniting newspapers and TV stations in the same company would help either.

According to the same Project for Excellence in Journalism study, local TV advertising revenue dropped 24 percent in 2009, while newspaper advertising revenue slid 26 percent. In that same year, newspapers shed more than 5,000 jobs, local TV stations lost 450 positions and most ownership changes happened because of bankruptcies. Analysts expect both businesses to improve, but there's no rush in either industry to buy more real estate in shrinking industries.

3 One trend in newspapers is the one-newspaper town.

Few major newspapers actually closed their doors last year. But the ones that did, or went online-only — the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado, for instance — were the second paper behind bigger players in their markets. In this environment, the question of who will own a newspaper grows more important.

4 Media consolidation hasn't changed much.

In 2007, a fact sheet from the anti-media consolidation group Free Press said Media General and News Corp. (which owns local Fox station WTVT-Ch. 13) controlled half the local TV revenue, and three companies (Clear Channel, CBS Radio and Cox Enterprises) owned 48 percent of local radio stations. Despite downturns in all media industries since then, those proportions likely haven't changed much.

5 You have a voice.

It would be a shame to have government officials decide who gets to own what media in your town without hearing your views, wouldn't it?

FCC workshop on media ownership, in Tampa on April 20, getting little attention 04/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 6:49pm]

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