This article is a continuation of a series by Demand Real Journalism. There are links at the bottom to the rest of the series.
4. Ownership rules were loosened by the government, so now, a small handful of companies own all the media. There is no diversity and these companies often use their media outlets to promote their agenda.
Once upon a time, there was diversity in media ownership. Not anymore. A small handful of companies control virtually all the news media. This situation changed over the years for two main reasons:
- Government relaxed ownership rules.
- Media profits are small, so the smaller operations could not compete and they sold out to the larger operations.
I promise you that whoever owns the news outlet has a huge influence on the news it produces. Theoretically, it is not supposed to be that way, but in practice that’s how it works. I’m not saying an owner controls every story that goes out, but they definitely control the tone of the overall message.
Occasionally, like in the case of MSNBC, the owners have decided it is in their financial best interests to allow a news product that does NOT overtly support their agenda, but that is rare. I’ve known of many instances, in talk radio especially, when the owners stuck with a highly conservative agenda and got rid of liberal hosts even though they were popular and got good ratings.
If we wish to see a better news media in America, there is no doubt in my mind that we have to get diversity back in ownership. Now precisely now we stuff that genie back into the bottle, I’m not sure but diversity in ownership, more than anything else, would go a long way toward getting the media into a more functional state.
REASON NUMBER FIVE:
5. The Fairness Doctrine, originally introduced in 1949 to force broadcasters to cover important issues by presenting competing views, was done away with in 1987.
In the early days of broadcasting, the government decided that the airwaves belonged to the public. In exchange for being granted a license to use the public airwaves for free to build a non-public business, government came up with the Fairness Doctrine.
In exchange for the use of the airwaves, broadcasters had to promise to devote airtime to issues of public interest. They also had to promise to present all sides of any issue.
In other words, it was illegal for any broadcaster to air nothing but partisan news to advance their agenda. Today it’s not.
The Fairness Doctrine didn’t function perfectly, of course. Broadcasters tended to do as little as possible, but they did indeed have to submit paperwork proving they had fulfilled the mandate.
The Fairness Doctrine is why broadcasters filled Sunday morning with public affairs shows. They knew few people were watching then or late at night, so they used those unpopular time slots to fulfill their governmental obligations.
“Fair and Balanced” is in the eyes of the beholder and no committee actually watched what was being broadcast to judge its fairness, the station was merely obligated to fill out some paperwork.
Although I absolutely think the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated, I personally do not think its as critical as ownership. There are always ways to skirt rules but if an owner wants to do real journalism, then nothing will stop them. If an owner has an agenda that happens to be conservative, they can just put on a “liberal” spokesperson on who is actually a closet conservative. Then when they fill out the paperwork, claim he is liberal and the government rules are satisfied. That scenario could be reversed, of course.
I’ve heard many people disagree with this position and claim the Fairness Doctrine is a hindrance to free speech. I do not think so. Just like you can not lie and holler “FIRE” in a crowded theater if there is not fire, no outlet calling itself “news” should be allowed to present nothing but biased, agenda-driven information. If they want to present that sort of information, they should not be able to label it as news. Call it an advertisement, call it infotainment, but don’t call it news.
6. Sensationalized gossip and theatrics are actually preferred by the majority of the audience. Real journalism tends to be dull.
Since media are for-profit entities, they simply must have good ratings or circulation numbers in order to sell enough ads and survive financially.
Hype, gossip, and theatrics are more fun to watch than boring news shows. So hype, gossip and theatrics are what you get.
This fact has been proven over and over. Documentaries and public affairs shows are notorious for low ratings. Add some flash and trash, sex appeal, people screaming at each other and other forms of sensationalism and rating will always go up.
One of my personal sayings from the old days is, Dare to be Dull! Unfortunately, few people in the business agree with Dare to Be Dull!
Facts and figures are boring. In-depth explanations put people to sleep. Sad but true.
Media outlets have to survive financially, so giving the audience what it wants is going to happen.
I do think that there is an audience for real journalism, it’s just smaller than the audience who likes the sensational stuff. If we had at least a few media outlets able to survive financially doing real journalism, then at least those outlets could lead the debate and the masses could remain happy watching their flash and trash.
I appreciate your reading Demand Real Journalism!
Together, we just might change the way the news media in this country operates.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Lorraine Grula, News Nerd and Journalism Advocate
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