The Changing News Media
Thanks to political changes and to the growth of the Internet, it’s no secret that news sources have had to radically change their operating procedures and business models to adapt to a rapidly changing audience climate. Those interested in discussions about the state of the current news media are fond of noting that, at one time, news departments at major United States television networks were, proudly, “loss leaders,” meaning that they operated at a net loss, making no money. The networks were willing to cover this loss with profits from other departments because news was important, and they were fulfilling the crucial social function of keeping the public informed about current events. To a certain degree, this state of affairs was even legislated, since news outlets were required to provide a certain proportion of real, objective reporting alongside their more sensationalist stories.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996
Over the past few decades, broadcast media, including television news programs and networks, have been changing drastically. The changes have largely taken the form of deregulation, including, for example, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated media ownership, leading to the current state of affairs wherein a few huge corporations own a vast majority of the broadcast media outlets to which the general public has access. Additionally, news outlets are now able to carry as much tabloid-style news as they like, and are under no obligation to provide objective reporting or to cater to what the public ought to hear.
Where is the Real News Media?
No matter which side of the debate is in the right, the question that arises is this: do people even have a choice in the matter? Do people choose to watch sensationalistic, fad news when they could be watching “real” news? Does real news even exist anymore? Or has deregulation left a void of information that still remains to be filled with a new, responsible news source that’s simultaneously savvy to the changing technological climate? It’s not clear whether people would choose good news if they could, but what is clear is that there’s a glut of entertainment news outlets. Perhaps a higher proportion of socially responsible news outlets would change the landscape once again.
News for Profit
The effect of deregulation can be seen every day across news media. Dedicated news networks are notorious for tailoring the news they offer to specific target audiences, giving every story they run a blatant political spin and choosing to air only news items that fit with their audience’s worldview. News programs on major networks such as CBS and NBC are no longer loss leaders, but are instead designed to make a profit by getting ratings, meaning that they often run sensationalistic news stories or use language and visuals that are flashy, exaggerated, and intended to catch the attention of an ever-more-restless public. On the internet, this type of news reporting is even more apparent: there are websites dedicated to providing only the news that visitors want to know, with nothing that they don’t want. Even formerly respectable news outlets, such as newspapers, frequently run sub-par pieces on their websites just so they can get as many viewers, and thus as much ad revenue, as possible.
The Case for Deregulation
In recent years, there has been a great deal of debate related to whether the changing news media is a good thing. Those in favor tend to be proponents of free-market capitalism and deregulation, arguing that news outlets ought to be able to give the public what they want in order to compete and make a profit. Such people argue that if the public isn’t interested in “important” news, such as current world events or political developments, no one has the right to force such information upon them. Free market fanatics claim that the market is itself a regulatory body, and the onus is upon news outlets to make news both important and profitable.