The problem is not the mainstream media… it is us!

monumentThe mainstream media (referred to as the MSM in this article) is often vilified for issues that have nothing to do with them but rather are a reflection of the American public. The media outlets are fundamentally businesses which have to make a profit. We often do not look at them like this but rather treat them as an information utility instead of the businesses that they are. This leads to fundamental misunderstanding of what we should expect from the MSM.

Now that print is dead MSM as a business needs to attract eyeballs their websites and compete on cable. Imagine the amount of money it takes to run the New York Times or one of the major news outlets. To run an organization of that magnitude it seems to me you could take one of two strategies: be middle of the road and non-partisan or be very partisan and play into the biases of your audience. The major networks such as NBC and ABC try to be bland as possible in order not to offend however they have to compete in an emotionally heated partisan environment and they come off looking flat and disingenuous. On the other hand Fox News and MSNBC’s do the partisan approach where they promise the truth but in fact are really trying to play on emotions and tribal instincts. Why? Because it drives ratings which drive advertising which boosts profits. Because this country is so bifurcated the moderates do not come off as fair and balanced but rather boring and corporate. They are simply seen as bland and corporate.

The internet further exaggerates this tendency because emotionally charged partisan articles get shared more and attract more impressions. Given this we shouldn’t see the MSM as a homogeneous entity. When politicians and news personalities complain about the MSM, it should be seen in terms of their own agenda rather than any reality of media bias. The media bias is towards their advertisers and need to make a profit rather than any sense of manipulation. You can see this when news personalities switch networks and their agendas change. Do I doubt that MSM outlets have certain biases? Of course not. What I am saying is that their biases are really markets and niches that they are trying to capture.

In order to play into their audiences’ filter bubble you will notice that websites will often omit stories. For instance you will find stories on HuffPo that you don’t find in Drudge and vice versa.

Now I want to be clear on something. I have criticized the MSM for being driven by profit and advertising. Do not misunderstand me, I am not against capitalism or advertising or any silly idea like that. I am simply saying that most of the behavior of the MSM can be seen as serving markets which are more a reflections of the underlying public. Most discussions of the MSM treat it as if it is a top down system where the MSM manipulate the audiences beliefs and fears. It is really the other way around. They are a reflection of their audience not the driver. Most media outlets are beholden to their ratings and they chase them regardless of ideology. They are simply business looking for product market fit. People like to portray the MSM as evil entities who manipulate and prey upon the public. So when you hear someone decry the MSM you should really be skeptical. The MSM is us.

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