Commercialization is a Bigger Problem in Journalism Than Political Bias; Or, a Letter Jane Craig Could Have Written

This is a not a new idea. The problem has existed probably since at least the 1980s. It’s also not an opinion I’ve just arrived at. I thought of this because of a recent post I read, about a journalist (who reminded me of Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News) quitting MSNBC.

It’s possible that I’m more sensitive to the editorial process due to my background in public radio, where no decision I ever witnessed was predicated on how a topic or guest would “rate.” The longer I was at MSNBC, the more I saw such choices — it’s practically baked in to the editorial process – and those decisions affect news content every day. Likewise, it’s taboo to discuss how the ratings scheme distorts content, or it’s simply taken for granted, because everyone in the commercial broadcast news industry is doing the exact same thing.
and later,
“We are a cancer and there is no cure,” a successful and insightful TV veteran said to me. “But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.” As it is, this cancer stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis. The model blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others… all because it pumps up the ratings.
I want to be clear that while I agree that ratings driven approach hurts the quality of news, this is not the same thing as saying “fake news”–that is, broadcast journalism is completely unreliable; that they’re making things up, particularly to hurt political opponents. I don’t think the public should completely give up on TV news, although they should be cautious and not blindly trust what they watch. The journalist calls for some way to change things. I’ll address some ideas in the first comments post.

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