Help, the sky is falling! So say the pro-regulation media agitators at Free Press, which fired off what is sure to be the first of many hysteria-ridden press releases about Rupert Murdoch's successful acquisition of the Wall Street Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones & Co. "This takeover is bad news for anyone who cares about quality journalism and a healthy democracy," argued Robert W. McChesney, president of Free Press. "Giving any single company—let alone one controlled by Rupert Murdoch—this much media power is unconscionable."
The argument that the Murdoch–Dow Jones marriage will have a significant impact on American journalism or democracy is absurd. Don't get me wrong. The Journal is a great paper; in my opinion, it represents the pinnacle of journalistic excellence. Nonetheless, it's just one of many voices shouting to be heard in today's media cacophony. Indeed, the modern media marketplace is extraordinarily dynamic, with new outlets and technologies developing constantly. Despite the existence of a handful of very large conglomerates, dozens of other important media companies continue to thrive and fill important niches that the big firms have missed. As Columbia University's Eli Noam has noted of the modern media marketplace, "While the fish in the pond have grown in size, the pond did grow, too, and there have been new fish and new ponds."
Or oceans, perhaps. As my recent City Journal article, "The Media Cornucopia," points out, close to 14,000 radio stations are broadcasting today, a number that has nearly doubled since 1970; satellite radio, which didn't exist before 2001, has roughly 13 million subscribers nationwide. Eighty-six percent of households subscribe to cable or satellite TV, receiving an average of 102 channels of the more than 500 that are available. Americans could read any of 18,267 magazines in 2005 (up from 14,302 in 1993). According to the Internet Systems Consortium, the number of Internet host computers—computers or servers that allow people to post content on the Web—grew from just 235 in 1982 to roughly 400 million in 2006. At the beginning of 2007, the blog-tracking service Technorati counted over 63 million blogs, with more than 175,000 new ones created every day. In light of these realities, it's difficult to see how Rupert Murdoch's move to buy the Journal makes much of a difference in the larger scheme of things.