No doubt, we are all weary of this "reality" business. Reality TV shows occupy as much news space as the war.

What should raise red flags is that "reality" is in the hands of a small few entities, thanks to media consolidation. Alarmingly, the trend toward consolidation, in any industry, is a threat to the American way of life. Contractors and subcontractors constantly observe bigger and more powerful competitors employing the advantage of size to keep their smaller businesses at bay.

The University of California-Berkeley reported in 1982 that 50 corporations controlled most of the mass media in the United States. By January 1990, that number had shrunk to 23. By the end of 1997, this number was down to 10: Time-Warner, Walt Disney, Tele-Communications Inc., Newscorp., CBS Corp., General Electric, Gannett Co., Advance Publications, Cox Enterprises and New York Times Co.

In 1994, it was reported that typical Americans spend four hours a day watching TV, three hours listening to radio, 48 minutes listening to recorded music, 28 minutes reading newspapers, 17 minutes reading books and 14 minutes reading magazines. Americans exist within the reality of mass media.

Author Morris Berman wrote that during the 1990s, AT&T, Time-Warner, TCI, MCI, Ameritech and Nynex, CBS, ABC, Disney and others made overlapping deals to unite market power and technological assets in cable and telephone systems, broadcasting, filmmaking, publishing and other media, while simultaneously forging telecom partnerships abroad. U.S. consumers provide the capital with deregulated cable and phone rates, and the winners are a handful of powerful media combines, as dominant as the railroad and oil trusts of the 1890s.

The German firm of Bertelsmann A.G. controls more than 21 top publishers, including Ballantine, Bantam, Crown, Del Ray, Delacorte Press, Dell, Doubleday, Fawcett, Laurel, Princeton Review and Time Books. Scared yet? I don't think free enterprise was meant to work this well but it seems to be an inevitability of capitalism that consolidation occurs unless restrictions are made.

In the contractor roundtable story on page 18, one contractor says that only the love of the business keeps him going, since much of it is an uphill battle. These contractors struck me as the last of the entrepreneurs, still their own men, controlling their own destinies for the most part. In retail, as in media, consolidation has erased an enormous amount of entrepreneurs. In construction, owners are increasingly trying to find "one-stop" shopping, generals and subs who can do more than just one thing, giving those owners only one entity to have to deal with. This is the thirst for consolidation by the customer, the same customer who wants to pay less at Wal-Mart, Borders or Best Buy, even though those companies put private smaller bookstores and appliance stores out of business, and hire huge workforces at pitiful wages.

Make your New Year's resolution this: Stop taking things at face value. Dig deeper for the truths that are muddied and muddled by what others want you to believe. There are always political and selfish motives that can have nothing to do with the business at hand. Look for these and don't stop being real American businessmen. The contractor is one of the last of a fading breed and must aid the resistance of too much power in the hands of too few.