Sunday, October 13, 2013

One Job

When does a job, or a career, become a duty?

I tend to be a "media" pragmatist. Journalism is a line of work like any other. And while a lot of people may go into it with the intent to change the world, to further the cause of Good Government or any of a number of high ideals, at the end of the day, reporting is an occupation that many of its practitioners rely on to, first and foremost, pay the bills. This means that journalism tends to go where the money is. Because the simple act of watching or listening to the news doesn't put food on anyone's plate, keep them clothed or erect a roof over their heads, for most, if not all, "free" media, the audience is not the actual customer. As has been noted about a trillion times on the Internet, the audience, or at least the attention of certain subsets of that audience, is the product being sold, and it's the advertisers who hope to capitalize on that attention, who are the customers. This, generally speaking, is my counterargument to those who would like to see the media court-martialed for dereliction of duty - usually for not telling people what the would-be prosecutor wants them to know.

As far as I'm concerned, the news media in the United States is not, primarily, a public service. It's a business. And the goal of a business - even if it's not-for-profit - is to make money. Programming, and the people who create it, do not come free. (Normally. After all, there is the hobbyist issue to contend with.) Generally speaking, American news journalism is advertising supported. And what matters to them is reaching eyeballs - preferably attached to people who have money that they're willing to part with. And so this becomes one of the major tasks that the news media concerns itself with - getting people to watch.

And this creates the problem that media watchdogs are so acutely aware of - that the media tends to be more concerned with attracting the public than "properly" informing the public. News coverage that makes people into better citizens is wonderful - but if it's not interesting enough to watch, people will surf over to something that is. The general public, at least in the United States, are not "news addicts" per se; while they may watch the evening news as part of their daily routine, they could do without it. And there are multiple sources of news, many of which are in competition with each other for the same audiences.

Between these factors, it's not particularly realistic for someone to expect that the news is going to be presented the way they wish it to. Unless they're prepared to start writing some checks themselves.

No comments: