INDIANAPOLIS – Freedom of the press goes beyond banning oppressive government interference with the media. It also means not allowing monopolistic private forces to overwhelm the independence of local media.
         
Please note, the term media goes beyond the newspapers and flyers of the 18th Century that are no longer the sole means of providing description and interpretation of events. Gossip and word of mouth, wisdom of the ages and oral tradition have been with us forever. Media, however, connotes a more disciplined (professional, if you will) approach to the transmission of information.
         
We do not require certification or licensing of media personnel as we do of doctors, lawyers, plumbers and barbers. Anyone can run a blog, send a distortion of reality in an email chain, or publish a book with disruptive concepts.
         
Media suggests, but does not guarantee, objective intermediation by editors or others who monitor the reports they make public. The concept is relatively new, about 100 years old. It became iconic in the mid- to late-20th Century.
         
“All the President’s Men” was preceded by movies, TV and radio programs that glorified publishers, editors, and reporters who “told truth to power,” while withstanding the temptations and threats of destructive force.

When there were only three major TV news organizations, the American public had limited, but trusted, sources of national and international news. When communities had multiple newspapers and radio stations, state and local truth could surface.

Technology opened the doors to new sources for alternative perspectives as well as blatant lies. At the same time, private financing of media changed from independent, local entrepreneurs to large corporate chains that “trimmed” costs.

Corporations behave like individuals; they seek to avoid the risks of change and the challenges of diversity. Therefore, editors who accept the risk of divergent views are best removed. Reporters who impede corporate strategy are best discharged. Radio and TV stations are bought and stripped of their distinctive local content.

Given lower costs of production, newspaper and magazine offices, TV and radio stations, housing older equipment, with their associated personnel, become unnecessary drags on profits. A conglomerate can morph an enterprise from news and reasoned commentary into a conveyor of entertainment and sensationalism. “Efficiency” of the corporation often out-weighs the quality and nature of the product.

Once upon a time, we had rules constraining media operators from becoming so big that they exercised excessive political and economic power. Now, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (S2434), introduced in Congress this year, attempts to restore local journalism. It offers tax credits for printed and digital newspaper subscribers, journalists, and advertisers. Broadcast radio and TV local news operations are similarly included. The monopolistic behaviors of large corporations, however, are not addressed. Our economy, like our democracy, needs independent, competitive journalism.  
 
Mr. Marcus is an economist.