The media haves and have nots

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Local media consolidation and the rise of paywalls, both meant to combat a bleak ad outlook, could deepen the growing divide between America's information consumer haves and have nots.

Driving the news: Nexstar Media Group has agreed to acquire Tribune Media for $4.1 billion, as first reported by Reuters and confirmed by Axios' Dan Primack. This would make Nexstar the largest owner of U.S. local television stations.

Why it matters: That gap is often defined by wealth and geography, rather than the public and reader interest.

"Increasingly, journalism serves as a powerful force for exclusion, for keeping quality information away from those who need it most, for discouraging anyone but the richest, most educated citizens from participating in the public conversation."
— Rodney Benson, chair of NYU's Department of Media Culture, and Communication

Be smart: Most Americans prefer to get their news from television and local TV news is by far the most-watched form of TV news.

The big picture: Nexstar's acquisition comes on the heels of changes in decades-old media ownership rules that apply to broadcasters and newspapers, which are combining with new types of competition in news and entertainment to creating incentives for consolidation.

  • A record number of newspaper sales and closures/mergers via the seven biggest newspaper investment owners have increased over the past five years.
  • Only 17% of local news stories in a community are actually local, meaning they're about or having taken place within a municipality, per a study from Duke earlier this year.
  • While more people say they are willing to pay for news, those with higher levels of education are more likely to do so, per a study from the American Press Institute.

Between the lines: Benson says finding ways to create a plurality in types of news ownership will help to decrease a growing information gap in the U.S.

  • "You could have 20 outlets competing in a given market, but if they're all stock market traded and profit-driven above all else, they wouldn't actually provide that much diversity of news content."
  • "You would probably be better off with just 10 outlets spread across a variety of ownership forms — including individual or family, nonprofit, and public (taxpayer-supported) ownership."
  • Benson cites other Westernized countries that have less of an information gap because of widely-available publicly-funded broadcast television. Examples include the BBC in the U.K., SVT in Sweden or ZDF/ARD in Germany.
  • The U.S. has public broadcast, but it's mostly funded by high-end donors, not taxpayer dollars. As a result, its audience share is significantly less than public media in Western Europe.

The bottom line: There's a real news and information divide between rural and urban/suburban communities as well as between the poor and rich in the United States. Consolidation and the rise of paywalls could make it worse.

Go deeper: We break down these trends in our deep dive on the Digital Divide.

Additional Stories

Trump's defense team shifts from complacency to urgency

White House counsel Pat Cipollone arrives for the Senate impeachment trial. Photo: Olivier Doulery/AFP via Getty Images

Just days ago, Republicans were optimistic President Trump’s defense team could cruise to an acquittal by the end of this week, but many believe his lawyers now face a steep climb to stop a vote to allow new witnesses and drag out the impeachment proceedings.

The bottom line: Allegations in excerpts of former national security advisor John Bolton's forthcoming book — leaked to the New York Times for a story published Sunday night — have shifted the dynamic of the impeachment trial and threaten to upend Republicans' plans.

What Matters 2020

Echo chambers are getting worse

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Over the past five years, Americans have become increasingly polarized in their media consumption diets based on their political affiliation, according to new data from Pew Research Center.

The big picture: It's not just news that polarizes us — it's our culture, too. Other studies out over the past year that suggest that the trend extends beyond news and information to entertainment and leisure.

Trump impeachment trial recap, day 6: Defense continues case despite Bolton furor

Alan Dershowitz. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

President Trump's legal team continued its opening arguments on the sixth day of his Senate impeachment trial on Monday.

The big picture: Trump's defense team hit hard on historical precedents, the Bidens, Burisma and the House impeachment managers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ended the day grinning broadly during Alan Dershowitz's remarks that the articles are not crimes, receiving handshakes from several GOP senators after, in addition to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.)

Recession fears return to the market

Data: U.S. Treasury; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Growing worry over the widespread outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus is compounding an already jittery market and flipping the switch from risk-on to risk-off, as investors sell stocks and buy bonds.

Driving the news: The S&P 500 posted its biggest single day percentage loss since October and long-dated U.S. Treasury yields fell, putting yields on Treasury bills that mature in three months just 6 basis points below Treasury notes maturing in 10 years.

Americans pay the full cost for Trump's aluminum tariffs

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's tariffs have notably increased the price of aluminum for U.S. businesses and consumers, a study provided first to Axios shows.

Why it matters: Trump has insisted the cost of the tariffs would be borne by China and other exporters, but the data shows that Americans are paying the costs.

U.K. allows Huawei to build part of 5G network

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Jan. 27. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas-WPA Pool/Getty Images

The United Kingdom on Tuesday announced Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei will build part of the country's next generation 5G mobile networks.

Why it matters: The United States along with numerous Conservative MPs have repeatedly warned the U.K. that Huawei is a national security risk, claiming that China could use its equipment for espionage. It's a sign the U.S. campaign against Huawei is faltering as allies open their markets.

Netanyahu surrenders immunity, faces corruption trial

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House on Monday. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has surrendered his immunity from prosecution just minutes before the Knesset was set to form a committee expected to strip it from him.

The latest: Israel's attorney general has now sent the indictments against Netanyahu — for bribery, breach of trust and fraud — to the Jerusalem district court.

Hong Kong cuts rail links to mainland China due to coronavirus

A woman wears a protective mask as she walks across the Yangtze River Bridge in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 27. Photo: Getty Images

106 people have died from an outbreak of a coronavirus strain that originated in Wuhan, China, the country's National Health Commission said on Monday.

The latest: Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday that the semiautonomous city would cut its rail links to mainland China and flights would be reduced, though the measures stopped short of a total closure of the border, per the AP.

Read more at Axios
© Copyright Axios 2020