For the residents of Minot, North Dakota, Clear Channel Communications is synonymous with disaster. Early in the morning of January 18, 2002, a train derailment sent a cloud of poisonous gas drifting toward the small town. Minot's fire and rescue departments attempted to reach Clear Channel, which owned and operated all six local commercial radio stations, to warn residents of the approaching threat. But in the age of canned programming and virtual DJs, there was no one in the conglomerate's studio to take the call. The people of Minot were taken unawares. The result: one death and more than a thousand injuries.
Opening with the story of the Minot tragedy, Eric Klinenberg's Fighting for Air takes us into the world of preprogrammed radio shows, empty television news stations, and copycat newspapers to show how corporate ownership and control of local media has remade American political and cultural life. Klinenberg argues that the demise of truly local media stems from the federal government's malign neglect, as the agencies charged with ensuring diversity and open competition have ceded control to the very conglomerates that consistently undermine these values and goals.
Such "big media" may not be here to stay, however. Fighting for Air delivers a call to action, revealing a rising generation of new media activists and citizen journalists—a coalition of liberals and conservatives—who are demanding and even creating the local coverage they need and deserve.
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At approximately 1:39 a.m. on January 18, 2002, a 112-car Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed just outside Minot, North Dakota, the fourth largest city in the state. According to the operating crew, the train had been traveling at forty miles an hour, and the accident happened when they attempted to slowdown after hitting a rough spot on the tracks. Thirty-one cars jumped off the rails, and several burst open, spilling about 240,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic compound commonly used as a fertilizer, into a woodsy neighborhood called Tierrecita