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.