Fortune magazine reporter Marc Gunther had been scheduled to visit the chairman of America Online in Dulles yesterday for a story whose working headline was "Steve Case Wants to Take Over the World."From AOL: Love at First Byte by Howard Kurtz, Washington Post (1-11-00) - the link will be good for about two weeks
At 6 a.m., an AOL executive called Gunther to cancel the interview. "We're buying your company," she said.
The AOL Time Warner deal should be blocked. And not just because AOL sucks. Huge companies should not control both the distribution and creation of news, information and culture - particularly in an environment of increasing concentration of media ownership. Unfortunately, the deal is more likely to fall apart due to financial reasons than due to government, media and public scrutiny.
While some critical voices are being heard, Tuesday's SF Examiner was typical. A gushing story on the merger and Steve Case (one of the major glowing sources is Case's older brother), AOL leads shift to Net-fed economy was the top story on the front page while AOL critics voice merger concerns was below the fold on the front of the business section. The public policy questions raised by the merger should be on the front page and at the fore of public debate, not buried in the business or entertainment section (when they are raised at all).
One thing people can fight for are community centers to create broadband content. While AOL has pledged to continue to support open access to high speed networks, community groups, non-profits and individuals will need access to the tools and training to produce the kind of content that media companies are spending millions of dollars to develop. Cities where Time-Warner has cable systems will have to approve the transfer of their franchise to AOL. They can require community media centers and other public interest requirements just as some cities required open access in order to approve the transfer of TCI's cable francishes to AT&T.
By the way, while you used to be able to read Marc Gunther's 1998 cover story on AOL, The Internet Is Mr. Case's Neighborhood on Fortune's web site, now you have to pay $2.95 to Northern Lights. Here is a selection of articles and sites on the deal and some background which are free:
Links updated 1/14
"Shortly before nine o'clock last night, I had the honor and privilege of signing a piece of paper that irrevocably cast a vote, the first vote taken, for the merger, of my 100 million shares, more or less, which I did with as much or more excitement and enthusiasm as I did on that night when I first made love some 42 years ago."--Ted Turner, Time Warner board member."
(this originally appeared on bud.com on 1-13-00)