Some days it seems we're living in a Lewis Carroll world, where nothing is as it seems. In the new media era, there are more and more information channels, but less and less knowledge. You can hop from your drive-time station to your eyewitness news channel to your favorite news portal to your morning paper, without significantly expanding your grasp of the world. Curiouser and curiouser indeed.
Part of this comes from the fact that our media outlets are increasingly owned by the same five or six media colossi -- AOL Time Warner, Microsoft/MSNBC/MSN, Disney/ABC, Viacom/CBS/MTV, etc. In the interests of amassing the greatest numbers of consumers at the lowest cost, these info-giants have learned to stamp out their content products with mind-numbing uniformity and a relentless aversion to controversy. Just as McDonald's fries taste the same in Bakersfield as they do in Bangor, so do these corporate news products, whether it's a Gannett paper in Phoenix or a CBS affiliate in Buffalo.
As the Media Borg absorbs more and more outlets -- and cuts the oxygen supply on the remaining others by monopolizing ad revenue and distribution lines -- it's vitally important for the surviving independents to play a watchdog role over their Big Media colleagues. Fox News is not likely to alert the public to the dangers of Rupert Murdoch's taking control of satellite television. Don't wait for CNN to crusade against the dumbing-down effects of media synergy.
Today, Salon kicks off an occasional series on the hazards of corporate consolidation in the information industries, "The Media Borg," a title inspired by the alien race in "Star Trek" that tried to absorb all life in the cosmos into one group mind. OK, maybe it's not that bad yet. Resistance may not be entirely futile. But even the ultimate media free range, the Internet, is in danger nowadays of being corralled by the same corporate titans. In today's article, Scott Rosenberg examines how dueling behemoths AOL and Microsoft are trying to revive their dream of turning the Internet into a proprietary system. If they succeed, then we may -- in the creepy Borgian refrain -- all end up "assimilated."
-- The editors
The series so far:
Assimilating the Web Like "Star Trek's" all-powerful Borg, AOL and Microsoft are determined to crush the spirit of online independence. Is resistance futile?
By Scott Rosenberg [06/26/01]
One big happy channel? The Telecommunications Reform Act handed over control of the radio airwaves to a chosen few. Will TV be next?
By Eric Boehlert [06/28/01]
The amazing disappearing book review In the age of market research, newspaper editors have decreed that their readers just don't care about books.
By Kevin Berger [07/19/01]
King of the Hill Michael Powell, chairman of the FCC, is young, smart and powerful. He's also presiding over a telecommunications meltdown and in the middle of a huge fight over media consolidation. How far can he go?
By Eric Boehlert [08/06/01]
Getting a lock on broadband How the FCC is paving the way for a few big companies to control everyone's high-speed Internet access.
By Jeffrey Benner [06/07/02]
Clear Channel's big, stinking deregulation mess The sorry state of the radio industry today is sabotaging FCC chairman Michael Powell's plans to let media conglomerates run wild.
By Eric Boehlert [02/19/03]
Habla usted Clear Channel? If the FCC allows the two biggest Spanish-language media companies in the U.S. to merge, it'll create a media conglomerate that will dwarf all competitors -- and could help GOP-friendly radio titan Clear Channel deliver Hispanic votes for Bush in '04.
By Eric Boehlert [04/24/03]
Can the Web beat Big Media? FCC czar Michael Powell says new technologies will let diversity flourish even as giant corporations consolidate their control over TV and newspapers. Dream on.
By Farhad Manjoo [5/21/03]