CMA's version of "And remember: Death is not an option"

Posted by Mitchell - May 6, 2008 (entry 596)

The Chicago Tribune sports page, years ago, had a column that was actually funny. It was written by Steve Rosenbloom, and listed a number of various snippits of the day's sports news, each accompanied by a snarky remark about the news item in question. One item, which listed a damned-if-you-damned-if-you-don't choice, imaginatively named The Choice, accompanied by the title "And remember: Death is not an option".

CMA, and probably the media activist movement on the whole, seems to have such a Hobson's Choice of its own this past week, when the Tribune agreed in principle to sell the New York Newsday (yay!) to Newscorp billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch (boo!).

So, which of the following is the lesser of two evils? (1) The Tribune keeping its media monopoly. (2) The poster child of media concentration (if someone who's 76 years old is a "child") continues building his own media monopoly.

I think the answer is, ironically enough, Tribune not selling it off. The Tribune lobbied like mad in the past year to change FCC media ownership rules to its favor (which still might unravel in the wake of Congressional action this week and legal challenges to come), and yet is forced to go against its concentrated media wishes under sagging debt of the ownership change from last year. By acquiring control of Newsday, Rupert Murdoch would now go on to gain control of three of America's ten-largest daily newspapers.

But it's a false dichotomoy in some ways. Note that the Tribune wouldn't relinquish total control of Newsday. Tribune would still hold 5% of Newsday's ownership under the proposed arrangement, and the newspaper would be held in a joint arrangement. It can keep some control (thereby not losing its stated claim to shareholders that it's not hemhorraging media properties), while gaining some cash.

There are other wrinkles; New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman is also interesting in getting Newsday. (One person owning two newspapers in New York? Sounds like concentrated media.) The terms of the deal may take a while (perhaps a year) to finalize; by that time, the FCC could have a Democratic majority (with good Democrats, not those invertebrate types) who could throw some obstacles at Murdoch by the time the deal gets their way. Maybe the markets may continue to tank and Newscorp may not have the capital to go on with the deal. Maybe we abolish markets by critiquing their Soviet-style corporate spawn and establish a more participatory economy in its place.

And maybe the Tribune can sell off the Cubs. Oh, wait.

UPDATE - May 12: Murdoch has dropped its offer to buy Newsday. That's good. But Cablevision has apparently been doing some wooing of its own. That's bad -- and I don't get my choice of toppings.

UPDATE II: May 13: It's official. Cablevision has made a deal to buy Newsday from Tribune. But apparently the sentiment on Wall Street is marked by confusion (no kidding).

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