This week’s post will focus on The Media Monopoly, by Ben H. Bagdikian. Bagdikian’s thesis is that mass media will choose what is better for businesses over what is better for society. I agree with his thesis, and would like to expand on some of his ideas further.
My work experience has put me in an interesting position. I have worked in a government broadcasting station for about two years and have seen the direct benefit a taxpayer-funded station can have on the public. With unbelievably limited staff resources, we can produce programs that educate and inform the public. Bagdikian states that government funded stations
“live on the knife-edge of unstable political appropriations and conservative attacks. Most stay alive by endless efforts to raise their own money from subscribers, and are forced to run commercials that duplicate those on the commercial stations. As a result, a real spectrum of non-commercial radio and television in the United States has remained skeletal” (Bagdikian, 1997).
He couldn’t be more right.
Even though these public stations have remained “skeletal”, I believe they still have a chance to thrive. Because of the evolution of technology it has become much easier to produce content. What used to take weeks can now be done in hours with tools like Final Cut Pro. High Definition video can be recorded with a cell phone. We don’t even need to capture content from tapes because of SD cards with well over 100 gigabytes of storage. A relatively small staff can create content that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars ten years ago. Because of these changes, government funded stations can produce higher quality content for a fraction of the price.
Because most government-funded stations have very limited resources they are accustomed to working with a small staff. This means that even with a small staff, they will thrive with these new technologies, but to do so they must be willing to change. Even though they can produce higher quality content, most still create and distribute content the old fashioned way. Patterns of media consumption have changed. No one wants to sit through an entire city council meeting because its information, while beneficial, is most likely not applicable to them. Instead, the content must be targeted and relevant for a specific audience.
Online video distribution has created an environment that is perfect for targeted content. Instead of long and boring meetings, short segments must be created that sum up what the meeting was about and why it was important to the audience. If a program is made about something like hillside erosion, there should not be just an entire 30-minute episode about the topic, broadcast on cable television. Instead, the station could create a short and specific segment that could be embedded online. The video should be stored in a location where someone looking for information on that topic could easily locate it. It is no longer acceptable to simply broadcast video to people who probably don’t even care about it.
To sum it all up: Government broadcasting stations may be able to thrive because they have been used to working on such a small budget and now video production is much more accessible and affordable. To continue to provide a benefit to society, these stations must create content that is engaging, targeted, and relevant.
Bagdikian, B. (1997). The Media Monopoly. Beacon Press.