In the olden days, when I was a grad student in Journalism, for instance, or a night editor for UPI, the business model of the news business was fairly clear:
- News organizations sold advertisements.
- They needed news to get readers to be able to sell the ads.
- News needed credibility to get the readers.
So we had a news business.
We tend to forget the factor of volume, as related to credibility. Newspapers, and later, television news, had to appeal to a mass audience in order to make a living. That helped us generate a news ethic, such as objectivity — covering the news, trying to keep opinion out of it.
News was never really objective, of course. But there was the goal of objectivity. As journalists, most of us tried to be objective. And when we weren’t being objective and we knew it, we tried to make our bias clear, and label the content something different from news.
“Yellow journalism” was about sensationalizing the news. And it was always a problem, back in those olden days. Some media did it more than others.
News values changed with the growth of television news. The business of selling ads got better with more audience, and the audience liked celebrities, violence, puppies, and things that could fit into 30-second spots.
What we didn’t imagine, back then, was the splintering of the audience into different interest groups; the impact of having 600 channels on the television, and millions of websites. That changed the business entirely, and we — not just the journalists, but the world at large — haven’t figured that out yet.
Specifically, what does that mean? Well, to start with, now you can make a good business being the blatantly conservative television cable news channel, for example. You don’t have to appeal to a cross section; you appeal to a segment. And you can do the same as the blatantly liberal blog/news source.
So what does this mean for news?