There are a limited number of advertising dollars, and aside from a few subscription news services and magazines like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New Republic, and The National Review, our news is all ad-supported.
Being ad-supported means that each outlet must compete for viewers and readers. Our viewership, our time spent reading a web article, the ads we saw and clicked on all factor into the pitch CNN or Fox News makes to their potential customers. We are not their customers since we buy nothing directly from them.
We are the product they are pitching.
They aren’t selling to their customers based on the accuracy of their reporting. They aren’t selling on their commitment to responsible journalism. They aren’t telling their clients they will get everything right or make retractions when they don’t.
They are simply selling viewer engagement.
As such, the narrative they tell must simply keep eyeballs on screens. Algorithms geared to gauge the time we spend can help guide their storytelling. Does January 6th sell better than Roe v Wade? Is it Hunter Biden or Woke-ism that keeps people watching Carlson? If so, which segments trended on YouTube? Which comments were retweeted the most? Which got the most likes on Facebook?
It isn’t necessarily conspiratorial. It’s capitalism. Making money is Business 101.
This isn’t to say that there are no journalists with scruples or that no reporting is accurate. This is to say that we should exercise care when consuming free media. It’s to say that things are never as bad as they seem. It’s to say that political views, religious views, and our adherence to any given philosophy are more nuanced than we are led to believe.
Nuance doesn’t sell. The middle doesn’t sell. Absolutism, political and cultural extremes, and the emotional response our disbelief or outrage are what sells.
This is just a reminder to ask more questions about what you believe.
It’s a reminder that all the friendly people you meet probably don’t share your politics to a T.
It’s a reminder that what we’re all told in popular media isn’t necessarily to make us more informed, but rather to provide information that leaves us wanting more.