Mr. Blunt and Cranky grew up in a small American town that was surrounded by farms – hence he grew up with lots of farm kids and has known lots of farmers. When times get tight, they either go under, go deeper into debt, or “diversify their business offerings”. This last usually means “Agritainment”: you know, hay rides, corn mazes, press your own cider, pumpkin-painting, all that sort of thing. It doesn’t typically get in the way of growing/raising food, and helps bring in some much-needed green and folding to keep the farm solvent.

News used to be, at best, a break-even sort of media operation, sometimes even a loss leader that was subsidized by entertainment divisions or tax dodges. It wasn’t expected to make money, and the only “news” outlets that did turn a profit were supermarket-checkout tabloids that really were not considered to be news at all – scandalous entertainment was their line. For quite some time, the serious news outlets looked down their noble honkers at these rags and scoffed at the notion of “for-profit news” as oxymoronic, or even plain moronic.

In the waning days of the 20th Century, American media (due to regulatory changes and market pressures) started looking to news as a profit center. Away went the stuffy insistence on balance, objectivity, research, depth and all that sort of boring old-timey stuff – going from 2 to 24 hours of news a day meant lots more expense, lots more airtime and lots more advertisements to sell. In order to turn a profit and stay in business, news became “Infotainment”: however, unlike farming, Infotainment DOES typically get in the way of broadcasting news. This frequently means that the quality of news that is delivered suffers.

Why does it suffer? Because ratings now drive content in the quest for ad revenue – revenue is now the primary driver of “news”, because the validity of any and all media operations is now based on profit rather than, well, the value of news items. Turn on any cable news channel, and you will find a large percentage of the time devoted to pundit circle-jerks, special-interest segments, and other fluffy bits of speculation and opinion. You will find a dwindling amount of time spent on the reporting of news, and very little depth when such is reported. This is understandable – a screeching pundit who peddles offensive, sensationalized twaddle gets more buzz and can thus sell more ads at a higher price than some avuncular gent in a suit, calmly reading headlines. Understandable, but disturbing.

I shall up my blunt game here: The value of news is now based solely on advertising revenue instead of the truth and relevance of said news to its audience. No one in profit-based (that is to say, almost all of it) media gives one tufted titmouse if we want or need information – they only care about what information they can make a buck from. And all those “liberal media” or “conservative media” memes: well, as my uncle used to say, they could wash a lot of hogs. If any rational business entity were to lose money on promulgating one viewpoint or another, they’d drop that ideology faster than Gingrich would a sick wife. It’s all about the money, honey.

And who is to blame? Perhaps shadowy Reaganauts, Commies, or evil media barons? Nope. ‘Tis we the consumers who have created this monster. If we all watched non-commercial news for a few days, the for-profit infotainment peddlers would change their products to match, so fast it would make your head swim. By allowing ourselves to be gulled by marketers, we have been complicit in the creation of the current paradigm: one in which a supermarket tabloid or porn magazine can sometimes beat the “serious” news outlets at their own game (really? Hustler and the National Enquirer out-reporting Fox, MSNBC and such? Yes, really).

If THAT doesn’t demonstrate to us the decline of the media and hence the degree of suckage in the news, nothing will.

 

Mr. B & C