A groundbreaking investigative work by a critically acclaimed sociologist on the corporate takeover of local news and what it means for all Americans
For the residents of Minot, North Dakota, Clear Channel Communications is synonymous with disaster. Early in the morning of January 18, 2002, a train derailment sent a cloud of poisonous gas drifting toward the small town. Minot's fire and rescue departments attempted to reach Clear Channel, which owned and operated all six local commercial radio stations, to warn residents of the approaching threat. But in the age of canned programming and virtual DJs, there was no one in the conglomerate's studio to take the call. The people of Minot were taken unawares. The result: one death and more than a thousand injuries.
Opening with the story of the Minot tragedy, Eric Klinenberg's Fighting for Air takes us into the world of preprogrammed radio shows, empty television news stations, and copycat newspapers to show how corporate ownership and control of local media has remade American political and cultural life. Klinenberg argues that the demise of truly local media stems from the federal government's malign neglect, as the agencies charged with ensuring diversity and open competition have ceded control to the very conglomerates that consistently undermine these values and goals.
Such "big media" may not be here to stay, however. Eric Klineberg's Fighting for Air delivers a call to action, revealing a rising generation of new media activists and citizen journalists—a coalition of liberals and conservatives—who are demanding and even creating the local coverage they need and deserve.
Klinenberg is clearly aiming to deliver theFast Food Nation of corporate media, and his disdain for conglomerates blares from every page, constantly reminding readers that a handful of companies have a stranglehold on media outlets, subverting the public interest for the sake of profit. It's a grim world where radio stations can't inform their listeners about local disasters because all the programming is recorded at a studio in some other state, where TV newscasters don't bother covering state elections, and even the alternative press has given its pages over to advertisers. The author's coverage appears scattershot, because it tries to take in as much of the media landscape as possible, but each section is extensively reported, and the pieces do finally fit together in the final chapters. As Klinenberg details former FCC chairman Michael Powell's efforts to loosen restrictions on how many American television stations one corporation can own, the story becomes a perfect convergence of his issues with large corporate entities and the Bush administration, as well as his enthusiasm for grassroots civic activism. His impassioned call to restore local journalism and its role in creating informed, engaged communities is sure to strike a chord with readers.