News has changed. It’s not that we don’t get access. It’s more that its definition and the purpose is evolving.
As a member of the Fourth Estate in democracy, the press media is widely recognized for their ability to lend advocacy or insight into matters that can shape public consensus and government policy. Serving as our eyes, these groups help inform our ability to make enlightened decisions in a democracy.
At one time, the major outlets for news were run as essentially public services. Either by wealthy families who, due to their wealth, didn’t flog their reporters and editors to ruthlessly cut costs and chase every last dime of profit. Or by corporations, who originally promised to run and fund their news organizations as a trade off for being granted use of the public airwaves. In both cases, these groups invested in resources that supported hard news gathering for public consumption.
Those days changed. And so did those organizations. More and more news is expected to produce profit more than merely support the public good. Pressure is on to produce a type of content and service that can survive in this new revenue-minded environment.
You may have noticed this already. A lot of news outlets’ job is increasingly not to inform you. It’s to entertain you.
A difference in today’s news. Yet not visibly different.
The way to understand it is very similar to comparing “orange Juice” and “orange drink.”
Both products sound the same. Both are consumed the same way. They can look the same. However, they are very different in terms of their composition and the health benefits from consuming them.
Orange juice. Like traditional news.
Orange juice is made from the insides of a natural fruit, the orange. The fruit is squeezed to produce a juice for consumption. The integrity between the actual orange and its juice allows for the transfer of a lot of its healthy ingredients like vitamin A, folate, niacin, thiamine and vitamin B-6. The juice also contains high levels of the minerals potassium and magnesium. All good for you and beneficial to consume and reasons why a lot of health-minded people seek orange juice.
Versus orange drink. News as infotainment.
“Orange drink” that you can buy at most stores IS NOT orange juice.
Looks like it, though. Its makers may design the product’s packaging to help it look even more like orange juice. Yet the term “orange drink” refers to a sweet, sugary, sometimes carbonated, orange-flavored drink.
Typically such beverages contain little or no orange juice and are mainly composed of water, sugar, sweeteners, flavor and additives. Most of those ingredients consists of chemicals and other processed substances. It’s likely the orange look comes from a chemical that simulates an orange color.
Very different drinkable products yet they look alike.
So much, the U.S. government requires orange drinks, as well as other beverages whose names allude to fruit products, legally requires companies to state them as orange drinks instead of orange juice.
So if you drink orange juice, you are actually drinking oranges as an ingredient. Plus, you are receiving a group of nutrients that are mostly good for your body and health and growth.
If you select the orange drink, you are consuming an orange in color only. All while introducing a lot more chemicals into your body that may not be as good for you.
Now you understand the difference.
A lot of what is traditional news, the hard “the who, what, where, when, why and how” of a story – the mentally nutritious facts, are increasingly substituted when producing news for consumption.
Like the orange drink, the materials used to create news products are now processed or artificially manufactured and flavored to taste like traditional news. Sure it “tastes” like helpful information but contains less substance.
The story or topic that could be newsworthy is briefly presented. Yet instead of going deep into the factual “who, what, where, when, why and how” the focus quickly shifts to areas like speculation, opinion and drama. All angles that may be only tangentially connected to the heart of the story.
So it’s not about “Bob ate an apple on Thursday. It’s more “Bob’s apple eating. Did he do it to anger God like Eve did in the Bible?” Or in politics, it’s covering the horse race or the “she said, he said” between candidates instead of reporting on or fact-checking their actual policies.
Like the orange drink, artificial ingredients like drama, speculation and controversy have been added. Dare I say, “for flavor.” In terms of the mind and news diet, it’s a tactic to improve the taste of the information and make it more attractive to consume. Like candy, the taste of something can override your need to evaluate its nutritional value.
Would you like candy? Or would you like green peas?”
More of us are drinking orange drink.
In the same way, that you might confuse orange juice with orange drink, many of now confuse news with what have become reality-based entertainment talk shows like cable news programs.
A lot of us didn’t wake up one day and decide that we wanted the news version of “orange drink.” We got used it as it started showing up more and more on our news consumption table.
Why the change?
In a quest for cost savings and ratings, many cable outlets and upstart news organizations shifted their content model to reality-based entertainment. Talking and chatting about the drama around a fact is much cheaper than gathering and producing hard news. Like orange drink, by moving from news gathering to talking about public events, news outlets can produce a knock-off product the public will consume at a cheaper price. The economics are simply too compelling to ignore. But there are consequences.
As I wrote in my book Does This News Make Me Look Fat, I talk about the death of the news gatherers.
News outlets that once produced a rich supply of news cut off that supply by eliminating foreign news bureaus, journalists and photographers. These are the people who used to do the legwork to go out and gather news that we as citizens may not have easy access to. And true news gathers worked to gather additional or insightful information without merely accepting press releases or official statements at face value. These department cuts happened as that model of finding news is now too expensive in an industry hemorrhaging money and profits. Plus upstarts that can command a news audience cheaper.
The solution they’ve turned to I’ve also mentioned in my book. Instead of having news gathers collect and produce real organic news, media companies and news organizations have learned to manufacture artificial or processed news. Outlets who get news from pooled source of news (like the Associated Press), each having the same news facts from that source and simply flavoring it with news opinion or hyperbolic statements along their news brand to look and feel different to the news consumer.
Instead of accuracy. Many “news” organizations are now being rewarded for having content contributors who can deliver shocking or over-the-top quotes for clicks and ratings rather than insights. News hosts are encouraged to move their mouths faster than their brains or the facts.
Anchors and pundits are encouraged to be certain or controversial more than right.
If that were the philosophy of my financial planner, lawyer or doctor, I wouldn’t feel comfortable turning to those professional for advice to plan my life. Yet, more and more, we accept it from our chosen news sources.
More places producing “orange drink.”
As said, orange drink news is not orange juice news.
As a result, these organizations often fail to deliver information at a level that responsible news consumers could use to make our own decisions without leaning on emotionally charged opinions or a bombastic host’s confidence as a crutch.
If you want real orange juice, you have to pay for real orange juice.
Anybody besides me notice that orange juice is expensive?
Orange drink can be bought for much less. That alone makes orange drink tempting. Especially if you don’t think you’re losing much from your choice. Still quenching your thirst, right?
We’re seeing that as less and less of the public are willing to pay for news. Many now rely on “free” sources such as Facebook or any content provider that does not wall off their content behind a paywall. That usually leaves most people’s news feed in the hands of content providers that rely on clickbait or other gimmicks. Providers who also feel the heat from advertisers to attract eyeballs.
Under such pressure, the providers are even more tempted to distort reporting by focusing on sensational stories and click bait.
The result: a news focus on what gets attention and return visits as opposed to what informs.
If you want the healthiness and taste of orange juice. There’s really only one way to do it: you have to buy orange juice. As less people are willing to pay, quality in-depth, insightful journalism is becoming the privilege of those willing to pay for it.
It’s very similar to fast food and processed food versus increasingly expensive but healthier food.
At the supermarket, it’s not unusual to see increasingly rotund people with carts stacked full of processed food. Or families constantly ordering from the fast food dollar menu. Short term, it seems smart. Cost effective meals. Yet the nutritional trade off for meals filled with sugar and chemicals can eventually come at the cost of health and medical bills (Cough, diabetes and high blood pressure).
For news consumers our comfort with a tasty “orange drink” may deny us the insightful news that an informed voting public needs.
Even at the local level. As the public are less willing to pay for local newspapers, they continue to shrink and are less able to cover and investigate elected officials and keep them accountable.
We pay for cable, so cable news in our viewing package kind of feels free. Probably why a lot of people lean on the cable networks. Problem is, they are on the forefront of the cost cutting “news-ish” trend and have been for the last couple of decades.
Former CNN head Rick Kaplan told the story of how he was confronted by Time Warner executives who were dissatisfied with CNN’s profits despite what had been record revenues and a solid return. “But Fox News made just as much profit,” Kaplan was informed, “and did so with just half the revenues of CNN, because it does not carry so many reporters on its staff.” The message to Kaplan was clear: close bureaus and fire reporters, lots of them….
Here’s the part that is the most telling of this quote…
…In short, Fox News is the logical business product for an era where corporations deem journalism an unprofitable undertaking.
I’m not beating up on Fox News. While once on the vanguard of news as entertainment that angered partisans and traditional news lovers, the model now is universally accepted.
Even by Fox’s competition. CNN’s mindless entertainment model is not partisan but more like the effort of a birthday clown trying to keep kids from being bored through gimmicks. MSNBC programming is a continual sanctimonious smirk at the GOP and Trump to soothe its angry and pearl-clutching audience. Lots of noise, drama and finger pointing. Little actual news. And Fox News, like Phil Donahue did with his over-the-top talk show, created this genre. And like Donahue, its offspring, like The Blaze and other competitors will over take it. Each generation turning up the notch of silliness, until one day, Fox News’ own silliness looks too conservative, boring and out of touch. Something that it’s relationship with once ratings-gold Trump will test.
No matter which way or for what reason of the news networks choose this path, they have.
All I can say is, “I want orange juice. Care for some?”