Horning: Independent media is lost, let’s find it again

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COLIN HORNING, Opinion Columnist

We hear all the time about the need for a free press in our society. After all, freedom of the press is enshrined in our First Amendment rights as Americans, giving us the freedom to criticize our own government as a basic right as human beings. Freedom of the press is one of the most important aspects of a truly free and fair society, as holding our elected officials accountable is a right that not many nations have allowed their citizens to do throughout history. But is our press in the United States truly free? While many news outlets try to appear impartial, many in the mainstream media are in fact just mouthpiece instruments for massive conglomerates and the wealthy elites. Most of the stories in the news cycle merely repeat the same talking points over and over again while at the same time being controlled by much larger companies and presumably spouting the opinions and narratives of the elites. Much of the same media outlets are controlled by just seven massive companies, leaving practically no true press freedom remaining.

Independent media was lost a long time ago in the mainstream press in America. Nowadays, almost every single mainstream news outlet is owned by a higher company, who presumably have the final say in which stories are run. The Washington Post is owned by the wealthiest man in the world and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and the New York Post are all a part of News Corp, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC and Vox Media (which owns Vox, The Verge and SB Nation) are all under the umbrella of Comcast Corporation. ABC News, ESPN, Vice News and countless local TV affiliates are all under their parent company Disney. And Yahoo! News, the Huffington Post, AOL, TechCrunch and MSN are all a part of the same conglomerate owned by Verizon. Countless other well-known news outlets are also owned by some of these companies, leaving only six or seven primary corporations for controlling practically the entirety of the mainstream press. Thus why the name “corporate media” has become more popular when referring to them.

So why is this an issue? While most of these news outlets still have relative editorial ownership in their content, the door is still open for the higher-ups in these companies to push out certain narratives into the media. This is why so often we’ll hear the same phrases repeated over and over again in different stories at the same time. Over the last several years, the mainstream press has repeated the same phrases, narratives and ideas over and over again, oftentimes saying the exact same words verbatim when reporting. It’s one thing for more than one organization to report on the same story at the same time; it’s another when practically every single story from dozens of different outlets repeat virtually the exact same thing. This is no accident: when massive corporations take over news outlets, the views of those running said corporations will ultimately reflect on the content being produced. Why else would Jeff Bezos purchase a newspaper that was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, especially during a time like today when the print newspaper industry is declining? Simply by owning a publication, Bezos not only has the final editorial say in the paper’s stories, but also now has political clout. If a politician is seeking re-election, an endorsement from the Post could certainly help them out, meaning said politicians might be more friendly towards Bezos in terms of legislation. Jeff Bezos isn’t the only example of these; he owns only one outlet. Now think in terms of the companies who own many outlets. The executives at these companies not only have the final say in which the news is projected, but also have political leverage similar to Bezos and the Washington Post.

The main issue here is the press being monetized. Fair and free press at its best comes from independently owned news outlets that focus less on making a profit for their company and more about being true to their journalism. Rather than having a couple corporate suits at the top running the show, free and independent media is run by journalists who are out to seek and report the truth to their readers, rather than play political games. If we are to return to a truly free press, the media in our country needs to be free of their corporate masters.