Messing Up the Message

Can you spot the journalist?
Can you spot the journalist?
Can you spot the journalist?

Apathy and Corporate News is Destroying Democracy

How often, when you picked up one of the mainstream daily newspapers, did you think, “What is this crap? It’s not even news!”

It only takes a couple reads to find that many of the big newspapers are pushing articles that are more like tabloids than real news. Instead of seeing, on the front page, news reports that hold a direct significance to our daily lives, we see catchy titles created to draw you in on the latest scandal.

But, what can one expect when one can’t even sell a newspaper for much more than a dollar? In the summer, Montreal’ The Gazette cut their Sunday edition. They failed to find adequate advertising revenue to produce a newspaper every day after 22 years of doing so. Often, The Gazette is given out for free on the streets to anyone willing to read.

Corporate newspapers are just that—corporate newspapers. But there’s a catch 22: if they’re funded by government aid, speaking critically against the hand that is feeding risks termination of the publication, but being a for-profit corporate publication relies on selling. The existence of the newspaper is heavily reliant on selling and advertising revenue.

So does that mean that we are to blame for the current state of our newspapers? I would say yes, but only partly.

The power of the Canadian media is held in only a few select hands. Postmedia Network Inc. owns more than a handful of newspapers, including The Gazette and the National Post. Quebecor Media Inc. also shares the same corporate power over newspaper publications as Postmedia Network Inc. Le Journal de Montréal and the Toronto Sun are both owned by Quebecor.

Because of their sheer size and domination of the mass media market they are able to not only deliver what people want to hear, but also tell people what they should want to hear.

“Propaganda does not have to be fully believed to be effective,” meaning that even though we might dismiss something we read as false, it still has an effect on us.

Another consequence of having the mass media concentrated in only a few hands means that we will only ever get that many points of view on topics of importance. So while there may be dozens of citywide or national newspapers to choose from, in reality you may only have three distinct viewpoints.

Luckily we have another option: the Internet. Unfortunately it does take an effort to find and sift through the news since there is little peer-review for this form of media, and many people don’t bother to make the effort.

We live in a capitalist society and even though the large media corporations have the power to sway public opinion, they are still market-oriented enough to know that the people’s voice matters since the people are the ones with the money.
We cannot be complacent or it will be our downfall. Apathy will get us nowhere.

-Daniel Johnston

The Rise of Infotainment

Flipping through FOX News, CNN and MSNBC reveals a startling phenomenon that is troubling to most who seek an objective analysis of pertinent news events.

Scattered among pieces of political prejudice and the latest international environmental disaster are often news pieces that would fit better on TMZ. Who cares if Lindsay Lohan is going back to jail for her blow habit? Or who Paris Hilton had sex with on camera?

Does this kind of entertainment story have any place in the news? Apparently it does.

As long as ratings and revenue dictate the content of broadcasting news media, seemingly irrelevant stories will continue to dominate the headlines and charismatic personalities will act as talking heads.

In the end, it seems this formula has achieved larger viewership and more revenue and thus takes precedence over providing quality content. Others believe that the phenomenon of infotainment—a term used to describe broadcast content used for entertainment and to inform—is a result of a decline in journalistic integrity and ethics. Whatever the real reason, the result has impaired people’s ability to get genuinely informative news.

Critics blame infotainment on the devolution of broadcast. Objective broadcast mediums that produce news content pertinent to the public are often trumped in viewership by television shows that slant the pure information into something that entertains. Inevitably, the result of the distortion creates a natural bias.

All major news broadcasters in the U.S. are privately owned by for-profit conglomerates.

FOX News Channel is owned by the FOX Entertainment Group, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. CNN is owned by Ted Turner’s Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. MSNBC is jointly owned by NBC and Microsoft.

The problem of for-profit ownership of news broadcasters is that it inevitably understands success in a purely business sense, rather than by the ethos of journalistic objectivity and integrity.

FOX News is by far the most watched news station of the three for all hours, consistently drawing more than both CNN and MSNBC combined. Putting aside the overt Republican rhetoric, it has been successful because of pundits like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly who provide more entertainment value to audiences than they do accurate and informative news. CNN and MSNBC, whose viewership and revenues are lagging behind, have employed the infotainment strategy in order to bolster sagging coffers. These three major news broadcasters evidently believe that increasing ratings and revenues is all that matters, rather than providing quality journalism and content. PBS News is the only exception, because, as a non-profit and public company, profits are irrelevant to its product.

Thankfully, Canadian news stations are also less affected by the need to increase viewership at the expense of content.

The business model and corporate structure of news stations is vastly different than south of the border. CBC, the largest news broadcaster in Canada, is a crown corporation that relies on the federal government for funding. While this dependence can cause concern of its own, CBC is better able to concentrate on journalistic integrity and properly informing the public rather than the need to make profits.

As long as news broadcasters are constrained by for-profit business models; by ratings and profits, expect sub-standard journalism.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 10, published October 19, 2010.