Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Fatal Timidity of the Corporate Media

Want to reverse the decline of the media? then stop worshipping corporate profits and start worshipping skepticism and a strong voice for truth, however inconvenient it might be to the Status Quo.

Lost in all the hand-wringing over the corporate (mainstream) media's decline is a key cause of the decline: the MSM no longer publishes or airs anything that challenges the Status Quo. The timidity of the corporate media knows no bounds. The iconic Washington Post now makes its corporate bread off its ownership of a diploma mill of the sort that it should deplore.

Choose the phrase your prefer to describe this: bought off, sold out, compromised.

In web-based corporate media, "journalism" has been distilled down to churning out lists: the 11 best cities to do your $50 million IPO in, the 9 most adorable dog breeds, 7 reasons why we hate corporate web-based media (you'll never see that list), etc.

The print media has always lived off advertising. What's changed is the overt slavishness of the media toward its advert masters.

If you flip through a corporate mainstream media publication from the late 1960s, for example LIFE magazine, you will see plenty of adverts. But you will also see uncompromising stories about alternative lifestyles, about demonstrators against the Status Quo being beaten, arrested and thrown in temporary gulags, and other stories which bluntly called the entire machinery of the Status Quo into question.

The deal was this: the media was relevant, so people wanted to read it. Advertisers who wanted to reach this audience had to suck it up and advertise regardless of whether they approved of the content.

A near-monopoly certainly aided the corporate media pre-cable TV and Internet: there were a handful of national print media outlets, two big newspapers per major city, a town newspaper in smaller burgs, and three national TV networks. Advertisers had little choice about where to place their advert dollars.

Now that advertisers have a vast spectrum of choice, they have the upper hand. The media outlets have to sell their audience to advertisers: please give us money, because our audience is huge, or targeted, and oh yes, in all cases special.

The media, corporate and non-traditional alike, could count on subscriptions to pay the basic bills. No more. "Free" content is of course not free: somebody has to pay the electricity bills for the servers and the staff to post the content, even if it's skimmed from other sites.

In a world of "free" content, why pay for content? Why indeed? There are two reasons: 1) loyalty to the voice provided by the magazine, channel, radio station, newspaper, blog, etc. In some cases, this might be the loyalty of those who love to hear their own views confirmed on a routine basis: the "true believers."

In other cases, the loyalty is for "telling it like it is," even if the positions don't always align with the readers' own views.

Reason Two is that the publication/channel/station is indispensible: everyone who is anyone reads it/watches it/listens to it.

What makes a media outlet indispensible? One, it is skeptical about received wisdom and official explanations, and two, it has a strong and unique voice. Please tell me there is any corporate media that meets these standards. Perhaps on a good day, here and there, but consistently? No.

The "liberal" media parrots the same old tiresome Keynesian blather that we need to borrow another $10 trillion, oh heck, make it $20 trillion or $100 trillion, because we need to pay our teachers and cops a living wage, unions are the backbone of the country, all we need to do is tax the top 1% and all our problems will be solved, etc.

The "conservative" media parrots the same old tiresome corporate welfare blather that we need a strong defense, never mind the cost, cutting taxes is the solutions to all our problems, so while we wait for that magic to work we have to borrow another $10 trillion, oh heck, make it $20 trillion or $100 trillion, and government shouldn't be intrusive unless it's enforcing our standards on everyone else, and then Central State tyranny is "morally necessary."

All corporate media reprints Central State propaganda with only the faintest mewling skepticism. You want an example? The media broadcast or headline blares: "Unemployment down as economy recovers."

If there was any skepticism left, and even the faintest shred of principled devotion to truth, the headline should read "Government spins unemployment numbers again, keeps pushing propaganda." We all know that's the reality, the truth, that the unemployment statistics are doctored, tweaked and massaged to play the same message again and again: "unemployment" is down, never mind it's because we removed 4 million people from the workforce; the economy is recovering because if you stop believing that, you might rise up against the Status Quo.

The corporate media is fatally timid because it's running scared. The focus is on profits that must be made and shipped to restive shareholders and managers, and on keeping a job to pay the mortgage.

The grand irony is the solution to decline is to stand for something other than corporate profits. Have you read what passes for "editorials" in the corporate media? The same old cliches are trotted out, the same bland milktoast "positions" that mean nothing, say nothing, signify nothing but complicity and surrender: the government should keep spending until we get out of recession, or the government should spend responsibly, blah blah blah.

In other words, let's play "journalism" not as if it mattered, but as a game where the "winners" attract more eyeballs and clicks with eye-catching lists and low-cut blouses, and snagging adverts is the only real goal.

Yes, there are adverts on this very blog. But I don't cater to whomever is paying Google to place their adverts; the adverts are displayed based on your preferences as much as on the content of today's entry. I don't change the content based on whether I get adverts or not. Nothing is "free," and somebody is paying the bills somewhere. The adverts help, but they have zero influence over the content. If they went away the content would slog on because it's what's important, and what counts.

I pay for subscriptions to various independent magazines, and donate to support independent blogs and online publications, because my money is a "vote" for skeptical, investigative media. If I don't "vote" for that kind of media, it will fade, because there is no such thing as "free." The home office has to be paid for, the servers must be paid for, the time must be compensated in a way that the "content producer" can buy groceries and trips to the dentist, etc.

But the way to build loyalty is to stand for something, not just repeat government propaganda and tired cliches that were drained of all meaning a generation ago.

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