It’s A Business!


Theodore Dawes:

The Fall of Journalism

In the past 30-plus years I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates for jobs in journalism. Among the questions I always posed is this one: Why are newspapers published?

To date, no journalism school graduate has known the answer, which is, of course, to make money for the publisher.

Last year I participated in a get-together with journalism students from the local college. I asked my question and received the same b.s. answers as always (“To… uh… provide the community with a voice?”)

When I told the students the answer, the instructor disagreed and repeated the same nonsense his students had already provided.

Mine was a common sense observation, gently delivered. As a friend of mine recently wrote, “If you want to see heads explode, try explaining to people that they are not the customer and the newspaper is not the product… advertisers are the customer and reader attention is the product.”

If you were to run that past your typical journalism school faculty, the resulting cranial detonations would register on the geology department’s seismometer.

And yet it is entirely, one hundred percent true.

We in the newsroom should have no illusions. Our entire purpose is to fill the “news hole,” which is the space left over after the advertisements have been placed on the page.

That’s the fact that underlies Seinfeld’s comical observation: “It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.”

That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is to say when you work for someone he/she is the customer to whom you are selling your effort, skill and industry. So if you are employed as a reporter then you work for the publisher through his/her agent the editor. (For purpose of this post, “publisher” means “owner”.)

Your job is to keep the publisher happy. Certain stories and topics will make him/her happy. Others will make him/her unhappy. Too much of one and not enough of the other and you will be unemployed.

The primary concern of the publisher is usually to make a profit. But the publisher may have more financial interests than just the newspaper. If, as is very common, the publisher is a major corporation or Feelthy Rich Capitalist, they may will probably view the paper as an integral part of the corporation rather than a fully independent entity. They will then expect the paper to advance the interests of the corporation/FRC.

This isn’t just true of newspapers. It applies to magazines, radio and television news as well as some blogs. So if a corporation like General Electric were to purchase a television network, they would expect that network to advance GE’s interests. Those interests would include government policy and legislation that affect GE.

So if the leadership at GE concluded that it was in the best interests of GE that Candidate A defeated Candidate B in the next election, they would expect their network to help Candidate A win. This would affect what stories got coverage and how they were slanted.

It’s really that simple.

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

I was born and raised in a different country - America. I don't know what this place is.
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16 Responses to It’s A Business!

  1. votermom says:

    That’s the diff between a journalist & a blogger – one has to do what the boss says. The other only has to obey the voices in his head.

    Oops, was I not supposed to say that out loud?

  2. yttik says:

    It’s really not quite that simple. In any business, of course you work for the employer and your job is to help him make a profit, but in something like sales, you really work for the customer. In journalism, you work for a publisher that makes most of his money by keeping his advertisers happy, but you still serve the customers, the people who read the paper.

    The fact that customer service is a dying art or that journalism has lost all integrity, doesn’t mean that the rules have changed. It’s a daily struggle for everyone trying to serve two masters in modern society, but the truth is, doctors are there to serve patients, not insurance companies. Journalists are there to present the facts, not create propaganda for political parties or advertisers.

    As to it being “that simple,” it doesn’t have to be. Many people have other values besides the bottom line. Many people are unwilling to sacrifice principles, integrity, for profit. Many people, doctors for instance, stubbornly insist on putting their patients first. Just because people, corporations, newspapers, are capable of selling their soul, doesn’t mean “that’s just the way it is.”

  3. westcoaster says:

    that’s why PBS and C-Span are so often radically different from other channels (although PBS is not what it used to be…) The government is not perfect but it has potential.

    • Somebody says:

      Oh please PBS and NPR have their own agenda, don’t be so naive. I spent years on my local PBS station’s board, trust me they SO have an agenda and quite frankly they don’t care if that agenda lines up with the community they serve or not. They are an interesting lesson in group think though.

    • 49erDweet (D) says:

      Your view of PBS differs from mine. It’s published with a point of view, which equals “journalism” today but used to be “propaganda”. It’s definitely not “news”, which is just the facts. And the reason for this is we people are too stupid to be only given facts and then expectef to correctly make up our own minds.

      • westcoaster says:

        I’m just saying that it has the potential of giving a different opinion, depending on how healthy our government is and how well it reflects our society’s values. I remember growing up seeing a lot of programming about creating your own viewpoint, learning to see the other side of an argument and not being materialistic. Government programming obviously is also biased, but is more sensitive to politicians and people than channels that have advertising.So if the politicians don’t listen to their constituents or people don’t say anything, it reverts to the interests of lobbyists.

  4. The theory makes excellent sense- But.
    I do not understand the media owners rush to push the fraud into office. Where is the economic benefit for them in more regulation etc? I can see the insurance companies pushing for the once and future fraud- he gifted them gazillions in captives. But the “news” owners?
    It would probably take my lifetime to figure out.

  5. DandyTiger says:

    Ayup, it’s a biz, and just follow the money. Though as you say, the money trail may be complicated because it can be about any or all of the owners interests.

  6. HELENK says:

    one problem is there are very few “Independent” news sources any more. I n any one city you used to have different papers with different points of view. during the 70s and 80s papers were bought out by corporations. I am not sure how many today but in the early 80s it was down to 17 owning most of the papers in the country.
    The internet has brought back the old time independent news with different points of view. That is really what the people want. The arguments, the competition make people aware and makes them think
    MYIQ goes to sites with different viewpoints and the writes about it and we read and become informed. Many of us go to different sites and bring articles here to be discussed.
    Why do you think ” control of the internet” is always being threatened.
    it is one of the last places where freedom of thought still exists and Thank God for it..

    • myiq2xu says:

      The glory days of the blogosphere took place when nobody was getting rich from blogging.

      For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:10

  7. DeniseVB says:

    Hmmmm, “business” must be off over in MarkosLand. MoneyMoneyMoney…..from an email:

    xxxxxxxxx…here is some of the most shareable content on Daily Kos over the past week:

    Idiot half-term governor takes $15-a-word nonsense to wingnuttiest corners of the interwebs, by Kaili Joy Gray

    Rape + Guns = Freedom. Or something. This image popped up on my facebook today, by OllieGarkey

    Chart: The price of a Papa John’s pizza, by RDemocrat

    You want to teach first graders WHAT?, by drewshaw

    Gomer Pyle marries his longtime partner, by quaoar

    Gabby Giffords’ hearing on Capitol Hill interrupted with news of mass shooting in Phoenix, by Mother Mags

    Daily Kos is the only place on the interwebs where what you write can be seen by hundreds of thousands of grassroots progressives. Click here to sign up for a Daily Kos account or, if you already have one, click here to sign in and start writing.

    Thanks for all you do,
    Chris Bowers
    Campaign Director, Daily Kos

    P.S. Please chip in $5 to help Daily Kos continue to spread progressive content far and wide.

    In 2004, I donated a lifetime subscription amount of $40, seems to have paid for itself. These are the most shareable posts? Heaven help the progressive movement…, have you noticed not one shareable post about Teh Won ? Oh. My. 😉

  8. elliesmom says:

    I have a lot of friends who don’t understand they aren’t the customers on Facebook – they’re what’s being sold.

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