Dec 4, 2018

The media haves and have nots

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Local media consolidation and the rise of paywalls, both meant to combat a bleak ad outlook, could deepen the growing divide between America's information consumer haves and have nots.

Driving the news: Nexstar Media Group has agreed to acquire Tribune Media for $4.1 billion, as first reported by Reuters and confirmed by Axios' Dan Primack. This would make Nexstar the largest owner of U.S. local television stations.

Why it matters: That gap is often defined by wealth and geography, rather than the public and reader interest.

"Increasingly, journalism serves as a powerful force for exclusion, for keeping quality information away from those who need it most, for discouraging anyone but the richest, most educated citizens from participating in the public conversation."
— Rodney Benson, chair of NYU's Department of Media Culture, and Communication

Be smart: Most Americans prefer to get their news from television and local TV news is by far the most-watched form of TV news.

The big picture: Nexstar's acquisition comes on the heels of changes in decades-old media ownership rules that apply to broadcasters and newspapers, which are combining with new types of competition in news and entertainment to creating incentives for consolidation.

  • A record number of newspaper sales and closures/mergers via the seven biggest newspaper investment owners have increased over the past five years.
  • Only 17% of local news stories in a community are actually local, meaning they're about or having taken place within a municipality, per a study from Duke earlier this year.
  • While more people say they are willing to pay for news, those with higher levels of education are more likely to do so, per a study from the American Press Institute.

Between the lines: Benson says finding ways to create a plurality in types of news ownership will help to decrease a growing information gap in the U.S.

  • "You could have 20 outlets competing in a given market, but if they're all stock market traded and profit-driven above all else, they wouldn't actually provide that much diversity of news content."
  • "You would probably be better off with just 10 outlets spread across a variety of ownership forms — including individual or family, nonprofit, and public (taxpayer-supported) ownership."
  • Benson cites other Westernized countries that have less of an information gap because of widely-available publicly-funded broadcast television. Examples include the BBC in the U.K., SVT in Sweden or ZDF/ARD in Germany.
  • The U.S. has public broadcast, but it's mostly funded by high-end donors, not taxpayer dollars. As a result, its audience share is significantly less than public media in Western Europe.

The bottom line: There's a real news and information divide between rural and urban/suburban communities as well as between the poor and rich in the United States. Consolidation and the rise of paywalls could make it worse.

Go deeper: We break down these trends in our deep dive on the Digital Divide.

Go deeper

America's food heroes

Photos: Charlie Riedel/AP (L); Brent Stirton/Getty Images

The people who grow, process and keep food stocked on shelves are doing heroic work in these conditions, often for bottom-barrel pay.

Why it matters: Millions of Americans don't have the luxury of working from home, and it's essential that food workers keep working so we can keep eating.

Acting Navy secretary resigns over handling of virus-infected ship

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned Tuesday after apologizing for comments he made about Capt. Brett Crozier, who was removed after a letter he wrote pleading with the Navy to address the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt was leaked to the press. The resignation was first reported by Politico.

Why it matters: The controversy over Crozier's removal was exacerbated after audio leaked of Modly's address to the crew, in which he said Crozier was either "too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this." After initially backing Modly's decision, President Trump said at a briefing Monday that he would "get involved."

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 1,407,123— Total deaths: 81,103 — Total recoveries: 297,934Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 386,800 — Total deaths: 12,285 — Total recoveries: 20,191Map.
  3. Trump admin latest: Trump removes watchdog overseeing rollout of $2 trillion coronavirus bill.
  4. Federal government latest: Senate looks to increase coronavirus relief for small businesses this week — Testing capacity is still lagging far behind demand.
  5. World update: China reopens Wuhan after 10-week coronavirus lockdown.
  6. Wisconsin primary in photos: Thousands gathered to cast ballots in-person during the height of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.
  7. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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