Friday, May 11, 2007

Mass Media

My friend Emily recently had a post that posed questions about media coverage. It made me think and I want to answer her questions (actually I tried to comment on her blog and I think I hit a wrong button and lost a really long comment, so I'm doing my own post).

Emily asked why media doesn't cover stories of good news, brotherhood and the more personal real life situations associated with war and other world events.

Media isn't about providing news, it is about selling advertisement. Would television exist without ads? Would newspapers exist without ads? I realize that we have PBS and premium channels that have different funding mechanisms, but those are the exception. Television and newspapers run stories (or entertainment) that attract media consumers so that advertisers will pay to have an advertisement that will persuade the consumer to buy their product.

So why doesn't the media report the warm fuzzy relationship stories? People say they want to hear the good news, and I think they do, but it isn't what people go to. If you are flipping through channels looking for something to watch are you going to stop on a channel that has a story of a complex relationship with a happy ending (imagine the images that would be on the screen as you flipped by). Or would you stop on the channel showing coverage of an overpass in San Fransisco collapsing in a ball of fire? People are generally attracted to the more action oriented stories. If that is what people tend to watch, that is what advertisers pay to have on the air.

I want to take this a step further. Image that you are watching the evening news and they start reporting on the relationship between the war in Iraq and gas prices. Their story focuses on how the American consumption of fuel is in a way driving the war in Iraq and gives a sense that our consumption is driving the war and if we were to stop consuming oil the war would end. The following story focuses on the impact of consumerism on the American public and how we could make a huge difference in the world by consuming less, buying fewer things and making more of our own resources. Following these two stories we go to commercials for Ford Pickups, SUVs, processed foods and the latest, greatest toy for kids. Did the program encourage or discourage the audience from purchasing the products? Will Ford, Chevrolet, Kraft and Tonka continue advertising in such programming? I don't know, but if I were in charge of the programming at ABC I would be unwilling to take that risk.

I don't want to be misunderstood. I'm not the type of person who thinks that the news is nothing but political propaganda. I think there is truth in news reports, but I also know a thing or two about economics. If nobody is watching the programming because other options are more exciting, advertising revenue decreases dramatically. If the programming is contrary to what is being advertised it may displease the advertisers and they may look for different programming. The media that we are exposed to is a means of selling advertising. If you think their sole purpose is to the truth to you, you are naive.

There are several things to be done about this. First, watch the type of news that you really want to see and not the attention getting stuff that most people watch. Then when you watch a program that exemplifies what you want to see in a news program, write a letter to the network and let them know. Those letters have a greater impact than you know. Secondly, and of extreme importance, DON'T watch the type of news that you dislike, and let the network know of your displeasure. It may even be beneficial to contact companies that advertise on programs that you don't like and let them know that you think less of their product because of the programs on which they advertise. But as for me and my family, we will not own a television and we will not subscribe to a newspaper.

If you are looking for accurate news, you probably won't find it. Personally if I want to know the truth about something I will go to a right wing political site and read what they have to say. Then I will go to a left wing political site and read what they have to say. The truth is likely somewhere in between.


Emily said...

Thanks for the lengthy reply. I didn't think anyone read that blog. I'm sorry you lost your comment on my website. I hate when that happens.

As for the advertising world, you have a very good point. They can't make money if people don't watch, and people won't watch if they don't see something stimulating.

What I wonder is why more people aren't concerned with this huge issue of "the war." Perhaps the only way to get people to care is to dive into their pocket books, but even with increasing gas prices, people continue to buy SUV's. I just don't get it. Well, maybe I get it, but I don't get normal people. They are weird.

Brian J. said...

If I wanted to be hit by a typical Astoria-area large truck, I would cycle to work with a jersey (or sticker-type thing on my back) reading "I (heart) expensive gas" or maybe "Visualize $5 a gallon". It amazes me how many new huge SUVs and trucks I continue to see that don't even have plates on them yet because they've just been purchased. You know that someone sold that vehicle and made that purchase knowing we have serious climate and war issues. It's unfathomable to me that someone could live in the same world I currently do and do something so senseless.
When people are whining around me about pricey gas, I like to point out the advantages (like the increased likelihood that the car that someday whacks me will be small, maybe more people will get motivated to ride and be healthier, etc.)

Vertigo said...

If it bleeds it leads.

I notice a significant difference between Canadian news broadcasts and American news. While there are certainly biases apparent in the way news is reported in Canada (aren't we all biased?), there is less of an emphasis on following the current police chase or whatever may be happening.

It is pretty pathetic what passes for 'news' these days.

About the war...I am not entirely convinced that the war is all about oil.

The top 5 exporters of oil to the US (Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria in that order) accounted for 72% of oil imported into the US.

Iraq accounted for 3.5%. It seems a bit of a stretch to me the Dubya would go to all this effort and expense to secure a mere 3.5% of total imports, especially when the nice folks in Northern Alberta are sitting on enough oil to make a Saudi blush.

I wholeheartedly agree that the developed world needs to reduce dependence on oil before it is forced upon us by drastically reduced supply.

I am a little skeptical about what I read in the media about the motivations of politicians.

Vertigo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vertigo said...

My source...

...copy it into your browser.

peddlinshutterbug said...

Great commentary… Just a few random observations:
1. What IS truth?
2. People are going to congregate at the most base level. Easy… to delve is too much work. This is a wonderful combination to marketing minds.
3. Explain the popularity of the talk/conservative/alternative media. They are generating the advertising revenue. People DO discern the truth…they/we are smarter than the marketers think they/we are.
4. Ratings feed the news machine. But what feeds it more is the politics, (just look at they way they hang on to liberal, Bush hater Couric, despite her low ratings, and the way the left tried to fund Air America, paying the advertisers!). … There is bias in the formerly mainstream press. The marketplace is a good in that aspect.. We have more information at our fingertips than the “mainstream’ press EVER imagined, much to the chagrin to lazy ‘journalists’ glomming onto the narrow news feeds.

I agree with Vertigo…And, in my opinion, if people in our country were educated on history and a little about war strategy and history; then if they took a look at maps of the Middle East region, they might begin to understand what is really happening in our world. Instead, they are busy with their vicarious ‘faux-living’ via the TV. There are many in our world who are fiddling, while the future of the world is at stake. Do we really want the Wahabists, the Islamic Fascists in charge of all the oil? All that oil which, whether we like it or not, runs the world’s various economies. We All depend on petroleum based products, from gas in our tanks, to rubber bike tires, cables, garden hoses, garden shoes, etc, etc. But we all know it is ~ALL~ Bush’s fault!~ why is that? Hmmm.. I think the press has more than a little to do with that…
It is all very complicated. I think we missed our chance many years ago, when we shunned nuclear power, shunned domestic oil exploration, and other alternative energies.. Even now it is still about power, not just the corporations. …take Kennedy, for example, opposing windmills that block his view..
Blame both sides of the political spectrum on all these.. WE/you/me/ the aggregate is to blame on this one. WE are all paddling in the same little boat.