Levels of the Game: Federalism and the American News System
In May 1987, the United States Information Agency opened an exhibition in Moscow called "Information USA." It was to tour the Soviet Union for 18 months, 10,000 people a day lined up to get in, and each, on entering, was given a magazine, resembling a newsweekly, to help explain what they were about to see. I had the opportunity to contribute a short history of the U.S. news media in which I thought it would be helpful to begin with some data on how my country was drenched in information.
My assignment is to relate the U.S. media system to federalism. But again, for the record, I think it is appropriate to recap the reach of the media--with some updated figures--that we will then deconstruct by level of government.
The media in America form two strands that have peacefully coexisted since the eighteenth century: a vastly dominant commercial segment, expected to rise or fall on the operators' ability to make a profit, and collectively offering truemendous diversity to the buying public; and a much smaller but significant noncommercial segment, in which almost every shade of opinion is represented by its own publications, from the liberal Nation through the conservative National Review.
Americans today can choose from nearly 11,000 periodicals published in the United States. (A typical drugstore around the corner from my office in downtown Washington, DC, displays 260 different magazines.) In broadcasting, too, choices have proliferated with the increase in radio and TV stations and channels. Virtually every American has at least one television set (91 million households, with 60 million homes having more than one set), and those sets receive broadcasts from 1,092 local commercial TV stations as well as 350 noncommercial stations (often affiliated with a university). Over 55% of American homes subscribe to cable TV systems typically having a capacity of 30-53 channels.