The new Reader Magazine tells the tale of work and labor in America. It is a tale of battling interests, negotiations, violence, and prosperity. "Labor is Life" reads a Depression-era, 3¢ postage stamp celebrating Labor Day. All throughout this story the notion of fairness plays out, the backbone of arguments used by both businesses and the laborer. All the while, it is the public that ultimately determines winners and losers in this struggle, through its support or rebuke of the players.
But can we expect to be able to recognize what is fair, or expect powerful institutions to be accountable to us, if what we need for both-- honest information-- isn't circulating freely? Does honest information circulate freely today? Let's look at what we've seen.
Twelve years ago, the American people were misinformed about the extent of global protest against the US government's plan to invade Iraq, which amounted to 35 million people protesting, later recorded in the Guiness Book of Records as the largest protests in human history. At the time, we were without journalism institutions with enough strength and independence to publicly question the US government's rationale for going to war in Iraq because of collusion between big business, big media and big government.
The actual negative impact from this fiasco-laden war is still largely kept from the public by the same media companies that embedded its journalists so as to not reveal the extent and cost of their complicity. The data is nevertheless available. According to John Hopkins University's Lancet study, 654,965 Iraqis were killed between 2003 and 2007 as a result of the invasion, mostly civilian men, women and children, 4,425 American soldiers were killed, hundreds of thousands of people were wounded and displaced, and US taxpayers got stuck with a $2 trillion bill. How on earth did we get to this place?
Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing today, America's carefully-tooled regulations, in place for decades to protect the public from giant corporations controlling too much of America's judgement-- shaped by control of movies, TV, newspapers and all other media-- have been dismantled, leaving the public vulnerable, cynical and increasingly politically disempowered.
In 1981, Mark S. Fowler, the FCC chairman appointed by Ronald Reagan, argued that television was “just another appliance. It’s a toaster with pictures. We’ve got to look beyond the conventional wisdom that we must somehow regulate this box". Mr. Fowler didn't believe what millions of Americans already knew about TV's real power in America, immortalized by Howard Beale in the 1976 Academy Award-winning film Network who thundered:
Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube. This tube is the Gospel. The ultimate revelation! This tube can make or break Presidents, Popes, Prime Ministers. This tube is the most awesome, god-damn force in the whole godless world. And woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people.
That the genius at the FCC would think "the invisible hand of the market" would keep the public safe from too much control of this tube in too few hands is a good indication of how wrong an entire school of thought can be. What is known is that he was dead wrong. The loosening of regulations caused massive consolidation of media power in the US and it led to real problems for Americans.
With the decline of authentic local media channels, bought up and shuttered or their reporting dramatically reduced by massive media companies, the standard at which communities across the United States are informed and engaged has plummeted. From 1981 to the present day, a 35-year trend of accelerating media consolidation has been a reinforcing cycle in which the decline in the value of the information provided---- the result of cost-cutting in order to achieve short term profits-- has lowered the value of the news-providing business itself, which further lowers the value of information provided. A 2012 Gallup survey showed Americans’ trust in the dominant media has never been lower.
In communities like ours across the US, small businesses and ordinary folks are increasingly economically vulnerable from being without authentic, local media channels serving as their political champion. The evidence of this economic and political vulnerability is everywhere. For example, despite U.S. small businesses producing 50% of all U.S. GDP, half of all payroll, and the majority of new jobs, they receive less than 1% of the available investment capital in the U.S. Income and political inequality has reached a level at which today four hundred Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.
It was not always like this. Part of what fostered America’s equal economic opportunity, growth and global dominance during the late 1940s to early 1970s came through a shared sense of purpose, taste and vocabulary made possible from a single media entity entering nearly every American home, distributed through a decentralized, democratic system in which thousands of local media channels could exert influence-- and thus accountability-- in what was coming into homes.
Unfortunately, media consolidation has removed the powerful democratizing force small communities and businesses can exert on what is heard, read and seen. Here is part of what was not heard, read or seen: from 1983 to 2013, while the number of companies controlling 90% of American’s information went from 50 to 6--every year over the same thirty year period--90% of Americans had zero or negative income growth and there was an annual $1.5 trillion upward redistribution of wealth from 90% of population to the top 1%, according to Professor Robert Wade of the London School of Economics.
What's to be done? The force to power honest information and a much-needed, new level of political accountability nationwide exists. Likewise, a local media channel that can bring this information free to all, and political accountability exists. But the force has yet to be channeled and the channel has yet to be forced into this purpose.
The force is the twenty-seven million U.S. small and mid-sized business owners, who together produce $8.4 trillion of the nation’s GDP, and the majority of the U.S. population who are without an authentic local media channel which champions their interests regionally and nationally.
The channel is what you're reading, The Reader. Last year these great American small business owners-- 27 million of them-- together spent $55 billion on local advertising, more than half spent on the kind of advertising The Reader can provide to each of them.
After two long years of rigorous planning and research-- and 15 years in the school of hard knocks-- The Reader has completed a 75-page plan to provide what it provides you and your family to every family in America.
This is great news for all Americans and awful news for Comcast, NewsCorp, TimeWarner, CBS, Disney, and Viacom who've enjoyed a decades-long party of unaccountability, irresponsibility and corporate welfare, hidden from view by their misinformation, omission, and distraction, a party paid for by the American people.
It's time the American people had something to really celebrate, a party of their own. And before you have a party, you need to send out your invitations, which we think The Reader can do every quarter, to everyone, free. We hope you choose to join us in this work (and at the party) particularly through your support of each business in The Reader.