4 Reasons The News Feels Like A Crapshoot
Every day in the year 2020 feels like 10 verses in an awful "We Didn't Start The Fire" millennial-edition remake. Between the global pandemic, Trump's impeachment (yes, that was this year), the international civil rights movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd, science deniers having public meltdowns, women sharing their stories of how famous men assaulted them, and MURDER HORNETS, keeping up with everything going down during the paradigm shift is exhausting.
On top of absorbing all this anxiety-inducing information, as consumers of free "news," we have to actively check our sources to make sure they aren't bot-generated propaganda. What happened to the days of news legends like Walter Cronkite, who was dubbed "the most trusted man in America?" When the hell did our news feed become such a mess?
Reepealing The Fairness Doctrine Didn't Help
The alleged "good ole days" to which so many MAGA supporters want to return doesn't include some of their faves, like shock jocks and political commentators. During the early days of the television, only three national broadcasting companies (CBS, NBC, and ABC. Fox was still a twinkle in Satan's eye), along with local newspapers, were the only sources of news -- and television was quickly becoming the American favorite. Just shove the facts into our ears and eyes! I don't have time to read and process words that could impact our lives immensely!
Pre-TV, the FCC put together something called the Mayflower Doctrine, which made it necessary for radio news programs to present facts and both sides of controversial topics. In 1949, the FCC repealed Mayflower and replaced it with the Fairness Doctrine. A personal attack rule was later added in 1967. If a news anchor called out anyone, be it a local politician or an unruly neighbor, "during the discussion of a controversial issue, the station must notify the person within one week and offer a reasonable time for a response." It was like Maury, but with noticeably less parental tests and brawls.
But as media companies turned into media conglomerates, making every vertical profitable became more important. The Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1987. News branches of media conglomerates were dead weight profit-wise, so producers who were in charge of money-makin' entertainment divisions took over the news verticals. The lines between news and entertainment began to blur, especially in the talk radio world. Shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern crawled out of their respective swamps and helped make the "this is my opinion, so deal with it, turd," form of entertainment wildly popular. Cable networks started putting together their own one-sided political entertainment shows. Even though the Fairness Doctrine wouldn't hold any power over cable networks like Fox News, its repeal was like the butterfly effect that gave us a reason to dread family reunions.
The Lack of Ad Revenue Is Killing Local Journalism
"Local journalism" may call to mind soft human interest stories about cats stuck in trees, but the truth is local journalists do a lot of important work, most of which -- aside from updates on Mr. Whiskers, who is still considered armed and dangerous --- has nothing to do with cats. Boston Globe reporters uncovered the sex abuse scandal of the Boston Catholic Archdiocese, which paved the way for investigations in other Archdioceses. Investigative journalist Julie K. Brown of Miami Herald helped expose Jeffrey Epstein. The Los Angeles Times uncovered the misappropriation of public funds in Bell, California, after looking into Bell's City Manager salary, which was a whopping $787,637 a year.
Larger publications that rely on the Associated Press and stories that appeal to the entire country, like USA Today, aren't going into small towns' budgets line by line to make sure city council members aren't overpaying themselves. These publications are covering topics that concern everyone and draw the most eyes. The same goes for most large news aggregation and content sites, which often cite articles from smaller, locally honed-in journalists.
This means that instead of getting hard-hitting investigative journalism, we get a mix of the same aggregated celebrity news and Trump Tweet roundups across platforms, as real local news comprises only 17 percent of stories presented by local media. As large companies swallow up small local newspapers, they kill the newsrooms, leaving citizens to fend for themselves and keep an on the inner workings of their respective cities.
Digital Publishers Feel Like Journalists' Pimps
Roughly 55% of American adults "often" or "sometimes" get their news from social media sites according to a report from Pew Research. News organizations take a financial hit thanks to pop-up blockers and apps and extensions designed to bypass paywalls. But your desire to avoid malware and annoying local singles ads isn't single-handedly bankrupting newspapers.
Massive platforms like Facebook and Twitter, you know, the place where most people find and search for their news, take a massive cut from whoever advertises with them. Facebook feels like a pimp who has journalists do all the work and then kiss Daddy Zuckerberg's feet and hand over the cash.
Facebook says that content creators and publishers make at least 55 percent of the "Net Revenue," which already feels like a lowball, considering their content is what brings people to Facebook. But Facebook's definition of Net Revenue has caveats. Daddy Zuckerberg is allowed to deduct costs for credit card processing fees, third-party fees, for violations of Facebook's amorphous terms and policies, or whatever Zuckerberg's goons glean "from Facebook's records and figures and regardless of whether incurred in connection with the specific Content or your other Content in which Ads Tool Ads are displayed." Between all of the Big Tech middlemen and high cost of advertising on Facebook, publishers are lucky to make a few cents to the dollar on their content.
While Twitter has cleaned up its act a bit, Facebook still has issues with publishers pushing propaganda or extremely tilted information. Hopefully, the wallet dings of companies like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry's, and REI pulling their advertising from the 'Book as a form of protest will force them to try harder.
Capitalist Algorithms, Baby!!!
Algorithms are a blessing and a curse. They lead us to products we didn't even know we wanted, like ergonomic kneeling desks, galaxy-projecting ceiling lights, or psychic drawings of your soulmate that you buy at a particularly harrowing moment in the middle of the night.
Impulsive purchases aside, the algorithms that dictate our social media feeds are designed to keep users on the platform longer. This way, Big Tech nerds can take that sweet, sweet ad revenue and spend it on important things, like finding the "emergency exit" to the simulation we live in. Yes, really.
The easiest way to keep users on the platform and make loads of Matrix-escaping money is to feed users content they like or content similar to what the user has posted. You know how the rest of this song goes. The algorithm feeds you a tailored timeline, then we all enter our own personal echo chambers and only help hyper-focus our feeds as we continue to use the product. If you're liberal, you'll be bombarded with groan-inducing Joe Biden ads, and if you're conservative, you're seeing Trump reelection ads that possibly have Nazi-like symbolism.
But as anyone who has gotten into a heated debate with a cousin over Facebook about vaccines, climate change, or racism knows, it isn't just the lack of information coming into individual echo chambers that keeps people from changing their minds. Facts are useless when the person you are trying to debate has already decided that all of your sources are invalid, corrupt, or an evil leftist brainwashing campaign.
Even before the advent of Facebook, communication and media experts were concerned about possible echo chambers. In 2008, communication scholars Joseph Cappella and Kathleen Hall Jamieson released their book The Echo Chamber, warning of the consequences of conflating critical information and opinion. The two focused on right-wing politics that used to be considered more "fringe," suggesting that Fox News and Limbaugh "insulate their audiences from persuasion by Democrats by building up a body of opinion and evidence that makes Democratic views seem alien and unpalatable." Which is why your aunt trusts Minions memes more than you.
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