26 March 2009

Manufacturing demand

It's inevitable that, whenever one complains about the declining standards in journalism marked by the increasing dominance of infotainment, the free-marketers will retort that news producers are only providing what the market will bear.

Firstly, I'm not sure, given the current climate, how far I'd want to go with that. It seems the public is hardly embracing the current trends in journalism either. Perhaps the all-powerful market would reject a more robust and fulfilling press as well, but no one looks willing to turn to that option. (Because, as I've written before, that would be expensive, and would require setting the profit expectations to a lower threshold.)

Furthermore, I think the premise behind the argument is specious. Allegedly the market works because consumers make independent decisions based on their own needs and wants about what to buy. When was the last time the American public actually rejected a product from a major corporation that caused it to fail? "New Coke," of course, comes to mind as an example of a product that had a major advertising push from an iconic mega-corporation which failed, but I doubt there are too many others. It's hard to see how these essential American corporations like McDonald's or Disney could ever decline, because it's unlikely they would ever produce anything for which they can't manufacture demand through advertising.

In order for the libertarian arguments about the news media to be relevant, there would have to be some competition between producers taking different approaches. There isn't. Everyone seems determined to bail out the sinking ship using the same rusty colander.