On June 3 I said I would wrap up this series within a week. Well here it is a month later. Best laid plans and all that.
The last entry focused on whether there was actually a tradition of media objectivity and the answer was, pretty much, no. We are all in a lather about losing an objective media but in truth, we got to where we are today without one. What we are facing today is not the loss of an objective media, but a vibrant media the provides information and opinion by which we make decisions. And we are losing it because the financing model is broken. So how did we get here?
There are hardly any news agencies (print or broadcast) that were founded as for-profit organizations. Joseph Pulitzer made his fortune in law and business before owning any newspapers. William Randolph Hearst made his money in mining. Frederick Bonfils bought the Denver Post with his real estate fortune. Every single historic newspaper was founded with one thing in mind: to promote the political and business goals of it's owner. It was run, secondarily as a "public service." Profit was not part of the picture. Broadcast networks began running news programs because the federal government, controlling the airwaves through the FCC, require public service as a condition of leasing those frequencies, but they were run on a shoe string because they didn't make any money.
It was with the explosion of advertising in all media in the 1950s that the media industry started seeing profit in running media. The standard of journalistic ethics grew out of that period because there was enormous pressure from the audience to maintain that objectivity. What also grew out of that was the massive media corporations we know today, including Viacom, Time Warner, The Tribune company and Fox. Today, supporting a particular political or social position is not nearly as important as making money (You think Fox News does what it does because of a political position? You are naive.)
But because the advertising revenue has dropped so dramatically over the past 10 years (with no end to the drop in sight) the corporations are looking for ways to stem the revenue hemorrhage. Part of that is changing the emphasis from news coverage, which is no longer required by the government, to low cost productions like reality shows and talent contests... because that's where people are advertising.
While everyone is "concerned" about the death of our 50-year-old experiment with unbiased reporting, they only want it unbiased if it agrees with their opinion and world view. People watch Fox and MSNBC because it agrees with what they already think.
It's sad that people think the media has abandoned them, but the reverse is true. Like government, people get the kind of media they deserve. And if you feel a sense of loss there's only one person that can make a difference. Go into the bathroom, look at a mirror and you will find that person.