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"My Beef With Big Media" by Ted Turner

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AmericanErrorist Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-25-04 01:47 AM
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"My Beef With Big Media" by Ted Turner
In the late 1960s, when Turner Communications was a business of billboards and radio stations and I was spending much of my energy ocean racing, a UHF-TV station came up for sale in Atlanta. It was losing $50,000 a month and its programs were viewed by fewer than 5 percent of the market.
I acquired it.

When I moved to buy a second station in Charlotte--this one worse than the first--my accountant quit in protest, and the company's board vetoed the deal. So I mortgaged my house and bought it myself. The Atlanta purchase turned into the Superstation; the Charlotte purchase--when I sold it 10 years later--gave me the capital to launch CNN.

Both purchases played a role in revolutionizing television. Both required a streak of independence and a taste for risk. And neither could happen today. In the current climate of consolidation, independent broadcasters simply don't survive for long. That's why we haven't seen a new generation of people like me or even Rupert Murdoch--independent television upstarts who challenge the big boys and force the whole industry to compete and change....
In the media, as in any industry, big corporations play a vital role, but so do small, emerging ones. When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas. People who own their own businesses are their own bosses. They are independent thinkers. They know they can't compete by imitating the big guys--they have to innovate, so they're less obsessed with earnings than they are with ideas. They are quicker to seize on new technologies and new product ideas. They steal market share from the big companies, spurring them to adopt new approaches. This process promotes competition, which leads to higher product and service quality, more jobs, and greater wealth. It's called capitalism.

But without the proper rules, healthy capitalist markets turn into sluggish oligopolies, and that is what's happening in media today. Large corporations are more profit-focused and risk-averse. They often kill local programming because it's expensive, and they push national programming because it's cheap--even if their decisions run counter to local interests and community values. Their managers are more averse to innovation because they're afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They prefer to sit on the sidelines, waiting to buy the businesses of the risk-takers who succeed.

Unless we have a climate that will allow more independent media companies to survive, a dangerously high percentage of what we see--and what we don't see--will be shaped by the profit motives and political interests of large, publicly traded conglomerates. The economy will suffer, and so will the quality of our public life. Let me be clear: As a business proposition, consolidation makes sense. The moguls behind the mergers are acting in their corporate interests and playing by the rules. We just shouldn't have those rules. They make sense for a corporation. But for a society, it's like over-fishing the oceans. When the independent businesses are gone, where will the new ideas come from? We have to do more than keep media giants from growing larger; they're already too big. We need a new set of rules that will break these huge companies to pieces.

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PROGRESSIVE1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-25-04 06:38 AM
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1. Why did Ted sell Turner to Time Warner???
That ruined CNN!
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Robert Murphy Donating Member (305 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-26-04 12:02 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. Er...
While I have enormous respect for Ted Turner, I, uhm, thought he was big media...

Actually, come to think of it, I remember how CNN, in its early days, was--at least in some aspects--a pretty first-rate news channel. Then, with the exception of Ammonpour(sp?), it seems they canned all of their best reporters, started adopting nifty broadcast graphics, and became news-o-tainment along with all the rest. (However, they still look like the paragons of professional journalism compared to Fox, but then again, so does the National Enquirer.)


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Name removed Donating Member (0 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-26-04 12:02 AM
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tomreedtoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-26-04 03:30 PM
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4. Turner was distracted.
While some people called him "The Mouth of the South," Turner actually had some ideals which were progressive. He did CNN as a money-losing proposition, because he thought it was needed to expand democracy here and in the world. (Guess what? It was.) He did one of the worst animated series of the end of the century, "Captain Planet and the Planeteers," because he thought it would help spread ecological consciousness.

Undoubtedly, he thought that by joining with Time Warner, he would be able to extend his reach. I have no doubt that conversations suggesting this were conducted with him before the merger. When Turner began to realize what was really going on...that's when he was removed from any real control over his enterprises.

If he was still vital, maybe he would consider starting a new opposing company (or find a way to help an existing one like Air America grow). But I get the feeling that Turner's most energetic days are behind him. Two miracles in a lifetime (TBS and CNN) are plenty; it would be ridiculous to ask for a third.
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cprise Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-26-04 04:10 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. That's the magic of the corporate charter
It brushes ideals aside as an imperative.

That's why the Left must stop running to sugar-daddy billionaires to provide enlightened sources of information. With a little time, these corporate entities will turn on our ideals every time.

If left to its own devices, even Air America will. You can count on it.

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