It’s hard to overestimate the impact of the various body blows sustained in different sections of the media world yesterday, none of which bode well for the future of a free and independent press.
Meredith May Buy Time Inc.
After two previously unsuccessful attempts, magazine publisher Meredith (home to Better Homes and Gardens and more) is reportedly close to finally acquiring Time, Inc. The deal is dead to have the backing of the Koch Brothers, the libertarian billionaires that have used their vast wealth and political influence to take down various regularity agencies and policies. The Kochs don’t seem to be interested in editorial independence and it’s likely this will turn the entire stable of magazines, including Time, into outlets for solely conservative viewpoints.
Ziff Davis May Buy Mashable
Just a year after Mashable, begun over a decade ago as a personal tech blog and now part of a media empire, was valued at $250 million it’s said to be worth just $50 million to Ziff Davis. What the long-term value of the site (or any site, really) might be is a big question mark, especially since the “pivot to video” Mashable engaged in just a few months ago doesn’t seem to have improved its fortunes any. Mashable’s editorial was increasingly watered down as it tried to move into more general news categories, realizing tech was played out. Ziff Davis last year sought to buy Gawker as it was being threatened by billionaire Peter Thiel.
Buzzfeed Misses Revenue Targets
The website that supports its important hard news with GIFs of Nicki Minaj expressing how you feel about Labor Day is going to fall well short of its yearly revenue target. That could mean the IPO everyone suspected it was planning could be put on hold or completely scrapped as it seeks new revenue streams, which it’s doing with an army of commercial content producers, to make up for increased expenses in the production of original videos and other content.
FCC To Dismantle Media Ownership Rules
Expect a new wave of media mergers and purchases if the FCC’s new rules to do away with media ownership restrictions are implemented without legal challenge. Taking away these rules means companies can own multiple TV and radio stations as well as newspapers in a single market, drowning out independent voices. The change comes, not coincidentally, as the FCC is pondering the proposed merger of Sinclair Media Group (a major conservative company) with Tribune Media. Considering Sinclair has been so willing to carry the water for the Trump Administration it’s curious that this seems to be no big deal while the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner has been weighed down with the requirement TW sell CNN, which has often clashed with Trump and his loyalists. Oh, and the FCC also wants to dismantle net neutrality, opening the door for media companies to add self-serving payment tiers to the internet that will reward the few while stifling innovation.
Ownership consolidation is dangerous to media. We’ve seen that in stark relief in the last couple years as billionaires shut down independent outlets for their own, often petty reasons. Similarly threatening is governmental meddling in media, deciding who is or isn’t allowed to survive without consideration of the public good, just corporate profits. Yesterday was full of signs that both situations are going to get much worse and might even lock out any mechanism for them to be made better.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.