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Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Breaking Up the Vast Left-Wing News Oligopoly-Papa Blog's nailed it in this Tech-Central take of the emerging conservative (or at least less liberal) media alternatives and a certain ex-VP's dislike of same. He points out that it's not a right-wing conspiracy but the breaking up of a left-leaning news oligopoly.
What seems to be going on - especially given that Fox, which Gore calls right-leaning, is gaining viewers while the more liberal CNN and MSNBC are losing them - is that the introduction of competition into the news business is doing what competition usually does: giving people what they want, instead of what sellers want to sell. And Gore's right: that's a big, big change, and one with important political implications, though he seems not to have fully grasped those. When there were three television networks, consumers of television news had to take what they offered - and with all three producing their news almost exclusively from the East and West Coasts, there wasn't much variety to be had, nor much desire on the part of the rather homogeneous group producing the news to offer variety. Television news in the "golden age" was in fact a classic oligopoly product, with little difference among producers. Those who didn't like it could shout back at the television, but that was their only outlet. This suited politicians like Gore - whose mainstream Democratic liberalism fits well with the traditional network-news mindset - well enough, but left a lot of viewers unsatisfied.
It's expensive to start a television network or a big-city newspaper, so that the big media had little competition for many years. Those barriers to entry allowed the liberal-leanings of modern journalists to go largely unchecked.
But technology changed all that, as broadcast networks were augmented by cable and satellite. Now viewers have a choice, and Fox's share is growing while its competitors' shares are shrinking. The same is true in other areas: talk radio, where liberal hosts have failed to get the kind of audiences enjoyed by conservative and libertarian hosts, and the Internet, where conservative/libertarian voices predominate to the great frustration of, well, guys like Al Gore. In fact, it seems that the greater the competition in a medium, the more that medium leans away from traditional establishment liberalism. In other words, instead of a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy at work, we are seeing the market, now freed from anticompetitive constraints, serving a large group of customers who were dissatisfied with earlier offerings and who now have some options. Not surprisingly, those who benefited from the old system aren't happy with the results.
Cable TV and the Internet have lowered the barriers to entry in a news world that isn't dominated by the network news broadcasts or the NYT and Washington Post. Alternative voices are being heard and bad reportage is fisked with extreme prejudice. Oligarchs (and the people who love them) don't like their cozy world challenged, but that's life in a free economy.

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