Afterword: Media Monopoly Bagdikian Analysis

Posted: February 24, 2010 in Com 546

My, how far we have come in the past century. From the evolution of telecommunications to the democratization of the internet, America has seen a dramatic shift in the way we communicate over the past hundred years. Will we ever see the death of mass media monopolies? That is yet to be seen, but clearly the growth of social production and data networks has started a break-down.

The widespread use of alternate forms of communication via the worldwide web has resulted in the slow disintegration of traditional mass media; but this shift may not be a bad thing. In 1997, Ben Bagdikian expressed his concern with mass media in his Afterword from the book Media Monopoly. He addressed the nature of mass media and how it was supposed to be objective and impartial, but in reality was a business driven by advertising. Executives decided what news was important to consumers, while, of course, taking their advertisers into account. With the exception of the occasional eyewitness news piece, everyday citizens had no way to dictate what news was important to them. Unfortunately, when Media Monopoly was written, only 13 years ago, we generally relied on these narrow-minded outlets to obtain our news.

At the end of his Afterward, Bagdikian states that the airwaves do not belong to the broadcasters or the advertisers, by law they belong to citizens in the United States (Bagdikian 1997). It was clear by this piece that Bagdikian wanted to see mass media democratized. The current disintegration we have seen with companies like the Seattle PI going out of business and Reader’s Digest going bankrupt may seem like a bad thing-but it represents a shift in mass media production. Those companies weren’t ready to capitalize on that shift.

The rapid decline of traditional mass media has forced outlets to reevaluate their production methods by converting to an interactive space on the web. The shift to internet production has allowed citizens to participate in media creation in ways that were inconceivable 50 years ago. We can retrieve news from various sources and select topics of our choosing; not to mention the fact that we have seen a rise in citizen journalism. This has been facilitated a great deal by the current social media revolution. Newspapers like the Seattle Times allow users to comment on and discuss articles online, and websites like ABCNews.com solicit their readers to contribute to news stories, and provide input regarding which topics are more important to them.

In his book Bagdikian talks about the ongoing conflict between what is good for business versus what is good for society (the two are not interchangeable). With networked mass media communications society has a voice to say how they feel about what news is produced as well as how outlets are producing it. This is what I would consider great for society. At the same time, advertisers can now pay these media outlets to reach specific demographics or groups whereas they used to have to buy placement for full subscriptions in the print contexts. This is what I call great for business. If mass media are able to survive the shift to the online realm then I believe it will ultimately result in better media production as a collaboration of consumers and producers, leading to better results for all.

Bagdikian, B. (2007). Afterword from the book The Media Monopoly. Boston: Beacon Press. Retrieved from http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Media/Afterword_Bagdikian.html

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