Still censored: the story and debate on the impacts of media consolidation in the Bay Area

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By Bruce B. Brugmann

For years, the Guardian has been publishing on its front page the “Project Censored” story, a list and story of the most “censored” stories of the past year as compiled by Project Censored, a respected 30-year-old media research project at Sonoma State University. We always include our local version of major stories the local mainstream media miss and note that they always “censor” the big local stories involving their own papers. And of course the mainstream press makes the story even better by "censoring" the Project Censored story every year.

The latest “censored” story, as attentive readers of the Bruce blog know, is
the story of the terrible impact of media consolidation in the Bay Area and the documents of secrecy, stonewalling, and collaboration that the nation’s biggest chains are using to censor and obfuscate the story.

This morning April l6, on the widely read Romenesko media newsletter on the Poynter Institute website,
an important story was posted that made the censorship point in 96 point Garamond Bold.
It was headlined “The Crisis of Consolidation in Bay Area News Media” and laid out in a telling argument that the Hearst/Singleton consolidation would mean that “coverage of virtually every level of government, education, sports, criminal justice, arts and business would be in the hands of one organization with a single set of principles, perspectives and purposes. This is the situation one expects in a totalitarian regime, not in pluralistic America.”

This is the kind of commentary that ought be a regular feature of every daily paper and major broadcast station in the Bay Area. The Hearst/Singleton deal ought to be a major running story in the local media. How many regional stories will be covered by one reporter? Will there be real Washington and Sacramento bureaus? Will there be a joint line on editorial policy and endorsements? Will the same candidates get the endorsements for president, U.S. Senate, the House, and other state and local political offices? How much will local news suffer? Will one critic cover a show or opening for all the papers? How many sports writers will be covering the Giants, Athletics, and 49ers? Who will cover all those local meetings? How can any of the papers be real local watchdogs? There ought to be informed discourse and debate on such serious impact questions, but there isn’t and there most likely won’t be in the monopolizing press.

Instead, the crisis commentary was written by the former political editor of the San Jose Mercury News, Philip J. Trounstine. He wrote the commentary as a consultant to plaintiff Clint Reilly in his antitrust trial in federal court aimed at blocking the monopoly deal. Trounstine was also the former communications director for Gov. Gray Davis and is the founder and director of the Survey and Policy Institute at San Jose State University.

So there you have it: the Hearst and Singleton press that owns all the daily papers from Vallejo to Santa Cruz refuse to do the story on the impact of the deal. Citizen Reilly has to sue to get the story out and bring in Trounstine to do an analysis of the impact. The analysis gets out only by being posted on the Grade the News.com, a media watchdog site, and picked up by Romenesko and the Bruce blog.

Trounstine ends with a crucial point: “The tragedy for the public interest is that instead of reallocating resources to increased local coverage, newspapers across the country and throughout the region are instead using the economic gains made from consolidation for short-term gains in profitability.

“With no meaningful daily competition on significant regional and statewide stories, there is no pressure on news operations to intensify coverage of any issue or event. Just the opposite in fact: consolidation ushers in the decline in the range and depth of information that citizens need to make intelligent civic decisions.”

Now, out of embarrassment or principle, will any Hearst or Singleton or Gannett or Stephens paper anywhere in the U.S. run Trounstine or do a comparable story on the Hearst/Single consolidation and its toxic impact on one of the most liberal and civilized regions in the world.? Let me know. Stay alert. B3