Media consolidation has been happening for decades. A smaller number of people are owning more and more. It doesn’t just happen in media; consolidation is a staple of capitalism. This is not the news we’re here to talk about.

Last week, we learned Community Media Group (CMG) is buying The News-Gazette. CMG is a media conglomerate based in downstate Illinois which owns and operates dozens of outlets around the Midwest. However, don’t let the name “Community Media Group” fool you. What this means, with certainty, is that there will be one less media group owned by people that live and work here, run by humans that make their daily lives about the news worth reporting (or not, but still reporting for better or worse). This means the portal of information that’s focused on C-U, created by those that live here is going to shift, and probably not for the better.

The way that information is pushed out into a consumer economy changed when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the way that media companies could be owned and operated in a free market economy. The media is intertwined with the political world, which is connected to our free market economy, and those writing the checks make the decisions about what information is published, whether we want to accept it or not.

All of these arenas are connected — politics, media, and those that consume both (aka everyone) — and a prime example of this is what we’ve seen in our backyard through Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns and operates a few stations in the area, and perpetuates a message that comes from people as high up in the chain as Don J. Trump & Co. This doesn’t just happen on the far right; everyone is guilty of it. It can be a dangerous landscape, and one that will continue to shift as the political climate continues to get more and more treacherous (as if it isn’t already, right?).

In plain language: Those holding the purse strings make the calls on what information is being published and broadcast for you and everyone around you to consume.

All of this isn’t to suggest this is what is going to happen with the purchase of News-Gazette Media, but most certainly, The News-Gazette and the outlets that exist within the structure of that company will have different priorities according to new ownership. The N-G being bought should not come as a surprise — they are filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, so their operation clearly is not in good financial standing. The consumer landscape has made print media less and less profitable (it is a business, after all). Newspapers continue to be a thing of the past, as digital outlets, click bait, and consumer data collection have become increasingly lucrative.  

This landscape is navigable if a media organization chooses to evolve and adapt according to the way people consume. It isn’t easy, but it is possible.

This will not be a no-strings-attached acquisition where CMG just comes to save the day, bailing out News-Gazette Media, helping them out of the hole they have dug themselves into. CMG will have the final say in what former N-G outlets publish in print, digitally, and broadcast on the radio.

What does CMG get out of a purchase like this? CMG is buying is a demographic: the demographic of people who follow the The News-Gazette, consume its news (and advertisements placed therein), and everything else that is pushed through the outlet(s) they operate. CMG doesn’t have a vested interest in our community aside from selling the content to corporations and organizations that don’t exist here. Anything earned by those advertisers as a result of this is money that leaves the community.

So, what does it all mean? 

What this could potentially mean is less focus on local news and reporting, and more focus on national news, according to the agenda of CMG, whatever that may be. Less focus on local news could mean less reason to employ reporters, editors, and photographers that live here and are on the ground reporting in and for our community. 

According to their website, CMG is a “privately held multimedia company” — that sounds nice and vague, doesn’t it? Take a look at the outlets they own, and you can get the sense that this is a somewhat homogenized news culture, and CMG is just one of those conglomerates plugged into the Midwest’s news organizations. CMG’s “history” section, tells us quite a bit in just a few sentences:

CMG began operations in 1996 and has grown steadily as a result of acquisitions and development of new products within existing markets. Senior management of Community Media Group has an extensive range of knowledge and experience in both community, semi-urban and urban settings and has long been recognized at the forefront of community newspaper publishing.

You think this was a coincidence that this began in 1996? Remember  the Telecommunications Act of 1996?

You think that “Senior management” has an actual grasp on our community? How would they if they don’t live here?

“New products within existing markets” means CMG will sell you and your data to someone else for profit.

There’s value in locally-owned and operated media. It’s difficult to showcase in a few hundred words here in this article, but if you’ve read Smile Politely, you know we feel strongly about it. Regardless of how you feel about what The News-Gazette publishes, you might think again when you see what News-Gazette Media is pushing out in 2020. While it certainly remains to be seen, there’s evidence that would suggest a shift is coming.

The Smile Politely Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer.

Photo by Patrick Singer