We're constantly told that we're living in a media era where the old rules no longer apply. But one of those old rules--that giant media companies need to get even bigger--is staying put.
Just weeks ago, cable giant Comcast swallowed NBC. This week brings news that AOL has bought the Huffington Post. As industry observers puzzle over the details and debate whether the site is really worth $300 million, others are asking what all of this means for progressive media.
MSNBC is now in the hands of Comcast--a corporation that, like most other giant corporations, is likely to be skittish about left-of-center programming. The sudden departure of Keith Olbermann left many wondering if his soon-to-be new bosses had anything to do with it. That's still unclear, but it's worth remembering that Comcast fired one of its TV reporters for criticizing Fox's Bill O'Reilly off the air. It's hard to imagine they would have been entirely comfortable with Olbermann's regular skewering of Fox's top-rated bloviator.
Olbermann's not done just yet. He just announced that in a few months he'll be back on cable television--this time on Al Gore's Current TV channel. Here's what he said:
Nothing is more vital to a free America than a free media, and nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news that is produced independently of corporate interference.
The New York Times reports that Olbermann said "he would talk at length about his former employer at a later date." It certainly sounds like Olbermann learned some lessons about corporate media's tolerance for left-of-center views.
Which brings us to the Huffington Post. Some are wondering if the site's liberal politics will be affected by AOL's ownership. As a Politico headline put it, "HuffPost to AOL: Leaving Left Behind?" Many would argue with the notion that the Huffington Post is "left" at all--including Arianna Huffington, who says she doesn't think that is what her website is all about. And by her calculation, politics makes up a relatively small part of the site's traffic, which means that AOL probably does not think it just purchased a key part of the progressive media universe.
That said, Huffington Post does offer a platform for progressive writers to publish their work, albeit one where that work appears alongside celebrity gossip and the like. Will that change now that the site is owned by AOL? Let's hope not. But if history is any guide, it might turn out that corporate control actually matters. I hear Keith Olbermann has something to say about that.
In the meantime, progressives who want progressive media free of corporate control have options: Democracy Now!, Common Dreams, AlterNet, Truthdig, GritTV and The Real News Network, to name just a few. Big corporations aren't lining up to swallow them up--which means they're doing something right.