Veteran media watchdog Bagdikian (The Information Machines, etc.), has gone a long way--probably the farthest yet--toward...



Veteran media watchdog Bagdikian (The Information Machines, etc.), has gone a long way--probably the farthest yet--toward pinning down the causes and consequences of media concentration. On some scores, he'll catch even the knowledgeable unawares. It doesn't come as a shock, though maybe it should, to read that 50 ""giant corporations"" control the majority of American media; it is discomfitting, however, to see the extent to which they ""exchange directors, and therefore have common policy views, with nonmedia corporations."" It's not startling, either, to be told that conglomerates resist anything that tarnishes their public image--until Bagdikian cites books canceled and reporters fired. On Gannett and other newspaper chains, he wraps up the charges--decline in hard news and editorial vigor, increase in ""soft"" features and uniformity or blandness--that have been appearing in Columbia Journalism Review and such. The alarm bells go off and keep ringing, however, when he moves into his second major area of concern, the effect of mass advertising. From New Yorker editor William Shawn, Bagdikian learned that publication of Jonathan Schell's 1967 report on the village of Ben Suc (and subsequent, early anti-Vietnam War pieces) cost the magazine a 40 percent drop in advertising by 1970; as Bagdikian and Shawn observe, only a closely-held ""anomaly"" like The New Yorker could have held to its course under those conditions. (The advertising eventually came back.) Next, Bagdikian shows how mass advertising, concentrated in front-runner newspapers, creates one-newspaper cities--and then makes those very papers less responsive to a variegated public (and more attuned to high-income markets). Publishing for selected, affluent markets also results, on the political front, in ""a disparity between citizens' and merchandising needs"": the content becomes a vehicle for selling the goods. Looking around, Bagdikian foresees ""a collision between independent journalism and American corporate power."" The muckraking magazines, he recounts (contrary to recent scholarship), were systematically taken over by Morgan and other interests. (They didn't simply expire in the death throes of progressivism.) Today, however, ""the large corporations can do what they did eighty years ago. . . openly and legally because they now own most of the media."" And how to get them to ""relinquish their giantism""? Rousing, old-fashioned American reformism--on a topic that no one knows better than Bagdikian.

Pub Date: May 1, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983