Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pg. 69: "Fighting For Air"

Eric Klinenberg, associate professor of sociology at New York University, is the author of the highly acclaimed Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago and a new book, Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media.

I asked Eric to put the Fighting for Air to the "page 69 test"; here is his response:
For most of us, media consolidation is an abstract concept. We often hear that a small number of corporations have taken over most major radio stations, television stations, newspapers, and, alas, alt weeklies, too. But how, exactly, has that changed the news and entertainment programming that saturates our culture? Is ownership even relevant in a digital age where information is everywhere and Web sites like this one abound?

I wrote Fighting for Air to answer these questions, and to humanize the story of what’s happened to America’s media over the past decade. I argue that the effects of media consolidation are felt most profoundly in our local media, where chain producers in all outlets bought out small, independent, and locally-owned outlets, then substituted pre-programmed, cookie-cutter content for original content once made by DJs and journalists. Ask yourself whether it matters that Disney owns ABC and you may draw a blank. But I’d bet you could speak for hours about what happened when Clear Channel Communications or Cumulus took over several radio stations in your home town, or when Tribune Company or Gannett bought out your local daily.

One of the most disturbing consequences of a radio broadcasting system dominated by distant corporations and run on auto-programming rather than by live staff: the demise of public service and local news – even when we need them most. The airwaves, after all, are public property, and corporations get licenses to use them – and for free – on condition that they serve the people’s interests. Today, however, regulators rarely enforce public service requirements, and page 69 illustrates the results.

Here, I tell the story of the communications breakdown in Henrico County, Virginia when, in September 2003, Hurricane Isabel hit. Clear Channel owns seven stations in the area, including the high-power emergency broadcaster, yet local emergency managers had trouble finding anyone at the company who would help with disaster coverage – particularly after the storm died and residents were flooded, without power, potable water, or telephones.

“We called all the radio stations in town and requested a back-up emergency number,” said Tamra McKinney, the country’s director of public relations, “but Clear Channel never responded. They just didn’t call back.”

Patricia O’Bannon, an elected official on the local Board of Supervisors, added that the public health situation was especially dangerous, because residents might not know that they had to flush out their water, which had settled in the pipes for two days and accumulated bacteria, before drinking it. “About one hundred thousand people didn’t have phone service, and we needed to get that information to them. We tried to reach out to Clear Channel, but they were playing Rush Limbaugh, a guy out of Pennsylvania, some guy out of Atlanta. It wasn’t local. Tamra kept calling Clear Channel and she was told that she had to call a remote location. When she did that, she got a message saying the offices were closed…”

“McKinney got through to Clear Channel the next morning, when the water had been flowing for a few hours. According to O’Bannon, ‘They told her that she was too late to get on the news for that morning…”
Thanks to Eric for the input.

Among the praise for Fighting for Air:
"Eric Klinenberg has written an extraordinary and powerful account of the devastating elimination of localism in U.S. media and journalism, and how Americans from all walks of life are rising up to challenge the great media crisis that grips our nation today. Brilliantly written and tightly argued, Fighting for Air is the perfect book for anyone wanting to understand what is going on in this country, and why it is so important to our future."
—Robert W. McChesney, author of The Problem of the Media

“Eric Klinenberg has given us a chilling report on how the American news media, increasingly concentrated, have made a mockery of the commitment to operate ‘in the public interest, convenience, and necessity.’ Admirably researched and lucidly written, Fighting for Air should serve as a wake-up call on the deafness of radio and television to communal needs.”
—Daniel Schorr, Senior News Analyst for National Public Radio

“Big media conglomerates—in radio, TV and newspapers—have taken over local outlets all over America, silencing independent local voices. Eric Klinenberg has done a masterful job of researching what has happened to America's local news media. Fighting for Air is a must-read for anyone who cares about the role of the media in a democracy.”
—George Lakoff, author of Don't Think of an Elephant!

Fighting for Air is a richly detailed, compelling, and timely investigation into the problem of the U.S. media and what people are doing to take it back. Klinenberg pulls back the curtain on complex media policy issues, with stories of real people, how they have been harmed by Big Media, and follows up with inspiring tales of underdogs who are fighting back and winning. This book is a call to action to fight for a strong, vigorous, independent media.”
—Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now!
Watch Bill Moyers' interview with Eric about Fighting for Air on the PBS special, The Net at Risk.

In addition to his books and scholarly articles, Eric writes for Slate, The Nation, and Rolling Stone. Among his articles for the latter: "Beyond 'Fair and Balanced'."

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue