Still Independent After All These Years

A lot has changed since April 7, 1987. Back then, the mullet was hot, the stock market was not, the government was experimenting with trickle-down economics, the nation was in the grips of a drug crisis and ‘Russia’ was on everyone’s lips.

So some things have remained the same.

Take Folio Weekly, for instance. On April 7, 1987, Jacksonville became another city to add an alternative voice to its media market, a free, independent, weekly publication offering another view-some would say a grittier, truer view-of the community. All these years later, we’re still free, independent, weekly and in print. These are traditions we’re proud to continue.

On the other hand, in the years since Folio Weekly burst onto the scene ready to kick ass and take names, the media that once comprised a comparatively small pool of voices has multiplied a thousand times, spawning a 24-hour news cycle and giving a platform to every Tom, Dick and Mary with a phone or a computer. Nowadays, we get to choose from a much larger smorgasbord of unearthly delights when we consume news … or do we?

See, there are more voices, but all too often, they’re saying the same thing-and not just because most people in the media are educated and middle-class, plus open-minded and reasonable, as any good reporter must be, but because many outlets are feeding off the same dead carcass that another outlet bagged, tagged and mounted on Tuesday.

For even as the media has grown, huge chunks of the industry have been consolidated in few hands. Outlets within these conglomerates share stories, so when Polly Reporter from Media Mogul Inc. in Tallahassee files a piece about how the Trump tariff war could hurt the orange industry, within hours or days, the same story is published by Media Mogul Inc.’s branches in Orlando, Miami and Jacksonville, as well as any of other Media Mogul Inc.’s outlets that need it, want it or are told to publish it.

Absent a conglomerate, on the local level, outlets that don’t share an owner often have content-sharing agreements to keep their websites chockfull of new stories to drive them clicks, baby. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it does give the average consumer of news the false impression that there’s a lot more getting covered than actually is, unless that person is paying attention to more than the headline, which they’re less likely to do these days. TLDR, you know.

On the subject of conglomerates, let’s take GateHouse Media as an example. Last fall, the company acquired the Florida Times-Union, the St. Augustine Record and the doomed Jack Magazine, along with a handful of other pubs. Soon thereafter, the newsroom staff bloodletting began. (See “GateHouse Slaughterhouse,” A.G. Gancarski, Jan. 24.) Also soon thereafter, the T-U started to take on the look of USA Today and, already challenging the balance of local to nationally syndicated stories, has now become so filled with wire pieces that it could get a second job as Christina Crawford’s armoire.

I’ve got nothing against national news; indeed, informed citizens owe it to their country to stay abreast of what’s going on beyond their own horizon. But shouldn’t we also know what’s happening at Mosquito Control? What the Downtown Investment Authority is up to? What’s they’re doing at the Water Management District? Who’s covering that? Fewer and fewer reporters, that’s who.

Meanwhile, the conglomerate keeps collecting profits and making the stockowners happy and to hell with the public and the overworked, underpaid staff if they don’t like it. According to Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab, as of March 6, GateHouse owns more than one in 10 daily newspapers in the country. Let that sink in for a moment: One in 10.

Now, corporate cuts suck, but consolidation doesn’t always wreak havoc. When it does, though, the effect is amplified.

Last month, CNN revealed that Sinclair Broadcast Group, the biggest owner of television news stations in the U.S., had required its news anchors to record a spot that parrots many of the president’s talking points designed to undermine faith in the press. If you haven’t watched the roughly 50 videos of these spots that have since been spliced into an eerie-as-hell montage of news anchors speaking in unison, get some popcorn and prepare to be creeped out AF. It’s hard to imagine how the anchors kept straight faces reading deeply ironic lines about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country,” and how “some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.”

Here at free, independent, locally-owned-and-operated Folio Weekly, we don’t want to control what you think. We just want you to think. And read.