Why Does Media Ownership Matter?

The ownership of a media outlet almost always influences its reporting and news coverage. The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism pointed out in its 2009 State of the News Media report that diverse media outlets contribute to a more free and unbiased press, while consolidation of the media under only a few owners allows those owners outsized influence on what news is reported.

Journalist A. J. Liebling is remembered largely for his quote "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." His point was that while freedom of speech is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, it is really those who own the newspapers and other mass media who decide what gets printed, creating a media bias. This bias is predicated on several things, including the personal beliefs of the owner and those he hires to run the media outlet, the source of the media outlet's income and the way laws are written to restrict what may be said.

Even media outlets that seem completely independent may be using media gatekeepers, wide-reaching publications with outsized influence on what news stories other outlets report. Tony Rogers writing at About.com identifies three particularly powerful ones: the Associated Press News Digest, the New York Times front page and The Politico Playbook. Each of these is widely read by reporters and other media professionals, and each has a role in shaping how news is reported. A change in the ownership of any of these could have major implications on which stories are told.