Who's who in the media
The consolidation and growth of multi-national corporations in the last few decades has led to an unprecedented level of concentration of media power. The Nation magazine detailed a snapshot of the ten most powerful media conglomerates: AOL Time Warner, Disney, General Electric, News Corporation, Viacom, Vivendi, Sony, Bertelsmann, AT&T and Liberty Media (the Nation, Jan 7, 2002, "What's Wrong With This Picture?", see http://www.thenation.com/special/bigten.html and http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20020107&s=miller). The Nation concluded that "while the players tend to come and go--always with a few exceptions--the overall Leviathan itself keeps getting bigger, louder, brighter, forever taking up more time and space, in every street, in countless homes, in every other head."
AOL-Time-Warner Company for example owns over 64 magazines, movie Studios (e.g. Warner Brothers), Music Labels, Book Publishers (e.g. Warner Books, Brown etc.), television (CNN, WB, HBO etc), radio, Internet (e.g. AOL, Compuserve, Netscape), sports, and many others.
Financial connections and deals are frequent and increase power and support for the various entities both within each conglomerate and between them. Thus, it is essential to realize that the media in Western Countries is business (with the exception of alternative media outlets such as NGOs and non-profit groups). Understanding how this business operates is important.
There are some differences between Newspapers and the broadcast media and we should deal with them separately. The administration and organization is different and thus our approach should be different.
Reporters gather news assigned to them by the assignment editor. Other editors ensure content is "acceptable" and accurate. The news Department is usually separate (at least in large newspapers) from the editorial page group. A News Editor thus oversees operations and news content (can include local and international news, sports etc). A separate Editorial Page Editor has overall responsibility for the editorial page. The editorial page includes these key segments: newspaper editorials (written by the newspaper editors but without a byline to give individual authorship), letters to the editor (contributed by readers), contributed Opinion Editorials (Op-Eds, by readers), and contracted and staff Op-Eds (written by syndicated columnists or by paid newspaper columnists). A managing editor sees day-to-day operations and ensures timely completion of tasks. An Editor in Chief oversees not only the news and editorial sections but has overall editorial responsibility for the newspaper in the business aspects (advertisements etc) and in other content provided. However, the editor in Chief is not a manager of day-to-day operations and has little influence on contents (generally relying on the Managing editor and senior editors for this). A newspaper usually has a chairman and publisher who also (at least theoretically) does not interfere with editorial decisions. Newspapers may also have a reader representative (an ombudsman) to take reader suggestions, complaints etc.
Understanding this structure is important to understanding who to go to for questions or comments. For example, to affect news coverage, the news editors are the key while for the editorial page, meeting with the editorial page editors and writers are appropriate. To ask for coverage of a local demonstration, a City or Metro Editor might be the person to contact (or the assignment editor).
The broadcast media (TV, radio) has somewhat analogous structures but with some key differences. Anchors read news while reporters may go out in the field to gather the news. Editors do the day to day copy editing (video/audio) and thus are key to making decisions to reduce the usually 10-15 minute interview to 1-2 minute total of two to three clips (sound bites are key here). An assignment editor is responsible for deciding what stories to send reporters to gather. A news producer will be responsible for putting together the news as a package. They all answer to a news director who oversees all the operations. The broadcast media using public airways are legally obliged to provide a public service as part of their registration (for example with the Federal Communications Commission or FCC). This can be utilized in demanding fair and balanced coverage.
Many newspapers and broadcast media rely in their news coverage on wire stories (they subscribe and pay for these). In the US some 99% of daily newspapers subscribe to the Associated Press. They have the right to use the information and add to it. Because of this, it is important to know the source of the piece you read in the newspaper and direct your comments accordingly. If planning events, it is definitely worthwhile to try to get wire coverage for it. Newspaper editors frequently just use the text as provided by the wires and only write the title. On many occasions we do find the titles wrong or extremely biased and will complain to the newspaper news editors. If the wire story is biased, then it is appropriate to complain not only to the newspaper (asking that they relay your information to the wire company) but also directly to the wire editors (e.g. Associated Press, Reuters).
Good links and resources to find whom to write to are on these websites
Finally, while most of our work is needed in the Western world wher the public gets misinformed about the issues of foreign policy, we should also write and reach-out to media outlets in other parts of the world. This includes Arabic Newspapers (see http://www.arabmediacenter.org/pub.html for listing). They are good to get info from but also good to reach out to.