Saturday, October 29, 2005


ANTITRUST: Seattle Times editorializes against competitor merger

The dangerous march toward monolithic media has now threatened the
irreverent and vibrant alternative press. The latest assault on the
independent press is the creation of a mega-chain of weeklies that stretch
from Florida to Seattle.

The merger of Phoenix-based New Times Media and New York-based Village
Voice Media, which owns the Seattle Weekly, is bad for democracy. The
merger places 17 weeklies under the control of New Times, which will take
the name of the company it cannibalized. The new Village Voice Media will
have a free circulation of 1.8 million readers, or 24 percent of the
circulation of the 126 weeklies that make up the Association of
Alternative Newsweeklies. The Department of Justice, which must approve
such a far-reaching merger, should keep the public's interest in mind and
reject the agreement.

For nearly three decades, independent newspapers, television and radio
stations have been steamrolled by bottom-line-driven consolidation and
corporatization. Now it is the turn of the alternative press to feel the
cold grip of consolidation. Just as daily newspaper corporate behemoths
like Gannett have too many tentacles in too many communities, the newly
minted Village Voice Media has overstepped its bounds.

The folding of the Weekly into a large chain became nearly impossible to
escape when local owners sold in 1997 to the Village Voice. Weekly
editors, who have enjoyed autonomy since the sale, will now report to
corporate in Phoenix, which will control 62 percent of the company.

The 11 New Times papers tend to look similar and do not weigh in on the
public dialogue with political endorsements. This Phoenix-dictated
approach is a stark contrast to the public discourse Seattle Weekly
readers have come to expect since its founding in 1976.

So when does the "alternative" press lose its claim as the feisty underdog
that is intensely connected to its community? Judging from the New
Times/Village Voice's very corporate press release, which contained lines
like "current portfolio of newspapers and online assets," any alternative
in 17 cities died with Tuesday's announcement.

Readers are ill-served when newspapers cease to be viewed as newspapers
but as assets in a portfolio. The consolidation of another layer of the
press is a blow to democracy and a loss for Seattle.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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