Following up on today’s post about the confusion between fake and real news, this from Victor Pickard , associate professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, writing in Jacobin:
Media are primarily designed to satisfy advertisers’ and media owners’ profit imperatives. Trump’s screen-to-screen exposure during the campaign season didn’t just reflect audience desires; rather, it served as bait for their attention.
Audience eyeballs are the coveted product that media deliver to advertisers. And to keep our attention, media must entertain us. Trump performs this role wonderfully. He keeps ratings high and ad sales strong. He is pure gold for commercial media’s bottom line, no matter how vacuous their coverage.
For the past hundred-plus years, the United States has tried to sustain its experiment in commercialized journalism by treating news as both a commodity and a public service. Although a perfect division never existed, the news industry (often out of fear of public backlash and government intervention) has long sought to prevent commercial imperatives from completely overwhelming democratic principles.
Today, as Donald Trump’s ascendance shows, any vestige of that always-porous divide is quickly disappearing. While television news media are the most blatant example, various forms of digital journalism that expose readers to invasive and deceptive advertising are also part of the problem. As revenues for hard news continue to plummet, the increasing emphasis on ersatz journalism and clickbait is deeply troubling.
What we need is a structural overhaul of our media system, one that uncouples journalism from commercial imperatives. Alternative models, both from the American past and from other countries, show us that different systems are indeed viable. But they require conscious policy interventions that establish structural safeguards and incentives for responsible and informative media.