...don't even ignore 'em.
-- Samuel Goldwyn

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


I don't think most people care much if big media companies control the news. Journalism is terribly upset right now at the probability that Rupert Murdoch will soon run the Wall Street Journal. This may surprise you, but I don't hear my friends bringing it up over coffee.

I mean, how upset can you get, when lobbyists control Congress. What harm can a little self-serving news-stacking do?

Let me give a small but significant example: MSNBC is a joint venture of NBC and Microsoft (though MS may have fully phased out their equity position by now). NBC is owned by NBC-Universal, which is owned by General Electric. NBC News has always been a good, clean news source, and still is. But it's harder for broadcasting companies, which aren't in the news business, to keep their hands off editorial content. Here's a feature story on the MSNBC Web site (last time I checked, it was the top rated news site on the Web) on "The Future of Business" (LINK), about how Boeing's spectacularly successful new aircraft, the Dreamliner, has revolutionized the industry.

Note the photo caption at the top of the page:
"Extensive capabilities in electronic and mechanical technologies are being deployed to support aircraft systems integration through deliveries by GE Aviation for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner."
For me, the eagle-eyed media pro, this translates to: "This slathering puff piece is an example of how a great manufacturing company keeps its clients happy. Do you really think, as the owner of a major cable-Web news operation, we wouldn't use it for our own business purposes? Duh!"
There are other clues in the story. Like the mention that the 787 rollout is coming up soon, and that Boeing has "rented an entire football field to simulcast the rollout, which will be emceed by broadcaster Tom Brokaw [Major General, NBC, Ret.]." No doubt GE's helping pay for the party. I didn't find the usual meaningless disclosure line on the Web page -- "MSNBC is owned by GE."

I bet I can find plenty of examples of corporate hype-news without working my mouse too hard. Except, maybe, in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, or the Washington Post, none of which are owned by companies in other industries. Shall we write our Congresspersons? I don't think so -- believe me, you don't want the FCC regulating news either. I think I'll write GE and NBC. Do you care if NBC thinks GE hype is news. Hope so. Maybe if we stop being passive consumers, news-as-hype could be made to go away.

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