10 April 2008

I want my Edwards haircut news!

Last week Greenwald posted some rather alarming statistics on the American news media's oft-lamented preference for fluff stories over, shall we say, more pressing issues concerning the viability of our democracy. Megan McArdle, the Atlantic's Sensible Libertarian, responded (in a post Gavin M. riffs on lyrically) saying, in more words, Da Market Hath Spoken, and it wants more video of Obama bowling.

People who follow journalism are very familiar with this contemporary paradox. Does the press cover vapid celebrity (political or not) stories because it is all the market will sustain, or do people follow the tabloid news because they have no other alternative? I've vacillated on this through the years but more recently I've come down quite firmly in the latter camp.

An important point, which has been made in various quarters of the web, is that the declining medias (the evening news, daily newspapers) have become increasingly dependent on advertisers, and advertisers prefer to chase a certain market of the impulsively consumerist. It is not so much that Old Media couldn't pull in the same audience doing harder news but rather that they would need to pull in a much larger audience of the type that style of journalism is more likely to attract in order to make up the difference to their advertisers.

I'm a downer fatalist about this, though. As long as news remains a profit-driven enterprise, this fundamental problem will remain, and in the days of neoliberal orthodoxy, that reality isn't going to change. Like all market-driven institutions, it will always be subject to the whims and waverings of those with the most capital to influence it.

EXTRAS: Greenwald responds to McCardle and Drezner. Roy E at alicublog.