Dear Microsoft: Please give us Non-Profit News

Microsoft has sold its remaining 18% share of MSNBC, which now becomes, just NBC. It is being reported that Microsoft wants to be free to develop as a news portal. MSN general manager Bob Visse issued a statement saying, “We’re talking about using technology and using data to solve information delivery and news delivery in new and innovative ways. It’s really difficult for us to do that when we have an exclusive, single-source relationship with one news provider.”

AFP suggests that Microsoft was inspired by the success of the Yahoo!/ ABC [Walt Disney] news portal. But it sounds as though the corporation may also want to use the news portal to drive customers to its Bing search engine, which I find woefully inadequate. (In fact, I tweeted yesterday that everything in the new Spiderman movie was believable except that Peter Parker would use Bing as his search engine.)

We don’t need another source of corporate news online. We certainly don’t need more portals that exploit real news operations like Britain’s The Guardian, which is struggling to stay afloat.

As for MSNBC’s original arena, television news, only 6 major corporations own most broadcast television news outlets in the United States. There has also been alarming concentration of ownership in radio, e.g. Clearchannel, which has boycotted artists for their political views. The situation in television news won’t be better if there are 7 corporations. Corporate-owned news has served us very badly as ownership has become concentrated. This, despite the valiant efforts of many honest journalists and editors, who, however, operate in an extremely unfavorable business environment and are often shunted aside in favor of infotainment and fluff or political misdirection. Much of the pressure comes, not just from the corporate higher-ups, but from the advertisers who pay for the news to be carried on the airwaves. In essence, cornflakes and tampons rent the news for us, but only as they please.

One of the six, Rupert Murdoch’s SkyCorp, has acted more like an organized crime syndicate than like a news organization. Its minions have hacked into people’s telephone message machines and have blackmailed politicians into passing laws allowing Murdoch to own even more of the media. Murdoch apparently even dictated policy on Europe to former PM John Major. That Murdoch’s US operations, such as Fox Cable News, behaved better than their English colleagues is unlikely. As it is, Fox bullies politicians and activists, engages in character assassination, and spews an continuous concatenation of carefully sculpted canards at the American people.

I wish the billionaires at Microsoft and elsewhere would instead found a charitable foundation to provide the news, and give it financial and editorial independence. I am arguing that someone with real resources needs to do for the news what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does for health in Africa and libraries in the US.

A big, visible non-profit specializing in news could be a game-changer for the whole culture. Investigative reporting is dying as the big corporations would prefer not to stir up trouble. Journalists are fired for refusing to join in group-think. Scams like the Iraq WMD propaganda are purveyed to us sensationalistically, so as to increase the advertising revenue generated by the “news.”

The future of news-gathering and analysis that benefits the public and is not just a prop for the status quo lies in finding a way to escape the trap of concentrated corporate news. It is to the extent where corporate television news is killing us, declining to report key stories like climate change and the Libor scandal. I can’t explain why, but corporate tv news still sets the agenda in the US. As a blogger, I always know that I can get more hits by addressing something tht is being argued about on television magazine shows than in doing real news analysis (luckily for my readers, I don’t really care about hits; I have a day job). But the persistence of the influence of corporate news even in a blogosphere that theoretically should be unmoored from it underlines how pernicious and pervasive it is.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Responses | Print |

11 Responses

  1. The problem of media concentration goes far beyond the Big Six, reaching down into small towns all over America.

    As just one example, Gatehouse Media owns something like 100 community newspapers spread across 19 states. Gatehouse is controlled by a leveraged buyout outfit called Fortress Investment Group – an outfit like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital – which saddled Gatehouse with more than $1.5-billion in debt. Fortress is run (and presumably controlled) by Wesley Edens – listed by Forbes as the world’s 369th wealthiest person.

    Edens’ career is a bit odd and Vanity Fair described him like this: “Edens, the C.E.O., is a cerebral, intense, very private wunderkind who made his reputation at Lehman Brothers — and a fortune for his firm — buying assets from the Resolution Trust Corporation. He made partner at Lehman when he was barely past 30. In 1993, he left ‘abruptly,’ as the press described it, due to ‘philosophical differences with management.’ He joined a prestigious money-management firm called BlackRock, split to spend a short year at the Swiss bank UBS, and then set up his own shop—Fortress.”

    He is a big donor to Republican Party politics – no surprise there – including giving money directly to Rudy Gulianni’s presidential campaign as well as John McCain. He reportedly attended one of Romney’s posh fundraising events last weekend in The Hamptons, but that can’t be confirmed. What Edens has donated through SuperPAC’s is unknown.

    Gatehouse’s 2011 annual report filed with the SEC contains all sorts of odd bits of information, especially in the sections called “Related Party Transactions.” (link to

    The point is that, beyond television news being controlled by a tiny handful of corporate interests, people living in small towns from California to Massachusetts depend news from one company that is owned by someone who has a vested financial interest in maintaining the status quo of the 1%. Or, more precisely and like Mitt Romney, the 0.01%.

  2. Professor, maybe someone needs to educate our potential benefactor on the meaning of the words “investigation,” “reporting,” and “news.” Given that the corporate person, Microsoft, has kind of been shown to be a destroyer of wealth while building its own enormous store of cash, link to, driven by that “competition” thingie that C-suite-ers use to justify their excesses, I would hold out little hope that even Melinda (etymologically, “sweet”) can move the Juggernaut out of its course — too many little striving men and women intent on selfish interests are pushing the wagon).

    We little individual persons are of course “free,” so far, and so generally futilely, to petition the corporate facade not to crush us the rest of the way into the ignorant dust. Hope springs eternal!

  3. You really want news? Since the 70’s our well bought government and the corporations have been spoon feeding us over sugared yet bland pablum. Hollywood writes the news.

    Everything that happens is reported by people on the scene now. “Citizen Journalists” to use a term I think came from
    Dan Gillmor, maybe not trained as reporters used to be but not paid either. Peoples news.

    Fire up your Open Source computer, open that Open Source web browser and use any search engine other than Google or something from MS. There is news out there and it is not being reported by some hair and teeth automaton.

    Just requires a little effort, just a little.

  4. A big +1 to this idea, Juan, and to the challenge you put to those with resources to do something with this opportunity. For someone[s] looking for the risk/reward/adventure of such an endeavor…what a sweet time to be undertaking it!

  5. It doesn’t do any harm wishing for a capitalist corporation to serve the public interest by providing news to inform people so that they can make important decisions about their lives. However, it’s against the logic of capitalism to expect they will. (I wish I could bold IT’S AGAINST THE LOGIC of the system). In other words, it’s fantasy that a capitalist corporation will invest money capital in computers, labor, news gathering, writing and editorial for any other reason but profit. That’s not why they exist. They exist to expand an initial amount of money capital (M) into a larger amount (M’) through producing and selling commodities at prices that cover costs and include a normal or above profit. An initial sum of money (M) that isn’t invested to become a larger sum (M’) ceases to be money capital. Capitalists that don’t invest in order to expand the size of their capital cease being capitalists.

    Perhaps the greatest economist wrote, “Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!…Therefore, save, save, i.e., reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value [profit], or surplus-product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake: by this formula classical economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie, and did not for a single instant deceive itself over the birth-throes of wealth.”

  6. Just a reminder that Bain Capital is one of the primary owners of Clear Channel Communications.

  7. Here is an organization that’s fighting back:

    link to

    They train independent journalists, mostly in Latin America, to cover the stories the corporations won’t. They are connected to the site, which has had what I think was the best English-language coverage of the Bolivian revolution, the coup in Honduras, and Javier Sicilia’s movement against the bloody drug war in Mexico.

    The transformation of Latin America in the last dozen years from neoliberal rape victim to a cauldron of native-peoples’, anarchist and anti-globalist agitation and victory at the polls is a remarkable story that our media simply left our public in the dark about. Is Latin America not just as important a part of US hegemony as the Middle East, and more important than Central Asia? We’ve largely lost all three provinces but while the media lied about the ME and C. Asia, it merely ignored Latin America’s uprising against Wall Street.

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