Who Owns the US and UK Media?

Two new reports have the data.

Researchers at Harvard’s The Future of Media Project have declared that “At a time when sources of information have proliferated at an extraordinary pace” there is a need for “radical transparency”. With so many commercial news outlets, non-profit digital startups, and social media sources, this transparency is a basic necessity to ensure public trust in media.

It’s for this reason they have created the US Media Index, a map of the almost 3100 newsrooms in America, their reach, and who owns and/or funds them.

If information wants to be free and journalism is about shining light and offering readers context, it is then in the service of journalism to understand who owns our media outlets: What is their reach? Who is making money or benefiting from a particular lens?  – Heidi Legg, Research Fellow, Future of Media Project

The researchers have defined ‘newsrooms’ as major print, digital, and broadcast outlets, and have not included “podcasts, bloggers, Substack or Medium columnists or talk radio”.

The Index is made up of three individual indices:

  1. US Mainstream Media Ownership (176 parent companies and standalone news outlets)

  2. Emerging Digital Nonprofits and Their Donors (231)

  3. Seven Big Owners of Daily Newspapers in America (own more than half of the major daily newspapers in the U.S. Index is organized by the state to highlight consolidation.)

And they come with a warning:

WARNING: There are some outlets on here that many journalists would deem political propaganda. Thus, the importance of radical ownership transparency. 

The index shows the areas of consolidation of ownership in the media industry, particularly in the local ‘dailies’, half of which are owned by just seven companies. But it also addresses the emerging space of non-profits, more likely to be dedicated to public service journalism.

The issue of philanthropy-journalism is complicated, and the process is still developing. This also tends to mean that, even if not commercial, the owners are still the very wealthy. However, in comparison to the UK, this ‘emerging non-profit’ edge is part of what makes the US look hugely pluralised.

The Media Reform Coalition (disclosure: I write their weekly blog) is a research and campaign group based at Goldsmiths, University of London. They released the third iteration of their report Who Owns the UK Media? in early 2021, which showed that, since the report’s 2015 and 2019 versions, consolidation of media ownership has increased in both legacy (traditional print, TV and film) and digital media (e.g. Facebook and its subsidiaries, Buzzfeed, YouTube…).

In 2021, 90% of the national newspaper market is owned by three companies, up from 71% in 2015:

…When online readers are included, these three companies (News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach) dominate 80% of the market. In the area of local news, just six companies (Gannett, JPI Media, Reach, Tindle, Archant and Iliffe) account for nearly 84% of all titles. Two companies, Bauer and Global, now control nearly 70% of all local commercial analogue radio stations and 60% of national commercial digital stations.

With the industry currently in hyper-flux - small outlets and passionate individual writers (hello there!) are proliferating while gigantic companies are merging with other mergers - it remains to be seen where it will stabilise. If it stabilises at all.

It’s hardly an ideal system, but it’s fascinating to observe and be a part of as the landscape spirals into something new.

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(Disclosure: I have included links to The Bristol Cable and PBJRC, both of whom I have worked with.)