by Bruce Felton
I have heard it said by those in the media that they offer a service; providing crucial information, exposing unfairness and abuses, providing educational programming. This is true. Yet it must be understood that modern media, in today’s forms, is still a business and driven by profit. To be more accurate, it is about selling space that advertisers will want to buy.
That is not to say this is a bad thing; it is largely how our economy works. Business looks to fill a demand by selling a service or commodity. If the consumer displays a desire for a particular type of product or service, then a competent business will anticipate and look to fill that particular demand. So if a demand arises for pink, purple polka-dotted widgets, then an astute business monitoring such trends will be ready to rise to the occasion by manufacturing and selling pink, purple polka-dotted widgets.
The news that we see and hear every day works much the same. Many times I have heard others – and truth be told, listened to myself – complain about the content or delivery of the news. Yet we still watch it. We still tune in to that channel, that radio station, that website or blog. We are the consumers creating the demand. But instead of pink, purple polka-dotted widgets, we are creating a demand for news of a particular content and format. We are largely creating the demand for the same news that we are complaining about.
Often the complaint about “the news” is followed by the resignation that nothing can be done about it, that we can’t control it. But of course we can control it: We created it. Maybe not overnight, maybe not definitively, but we can control it with our remotes, our keyboards, our radio dials, the papers and magazines we read. We are all the consumers of the news, and it is ultimately we who control the demand. If we want to change the “if it bleeds, it leads” atmosphere, we have to curb our appetite for the sensational and replace it with a desire for quality journalism. There are certainly many talented journalists who sincerely wish to provide content that is useful, educational, and embodies the integrity that the SPJ Code of Ethics hopes to foster. Let’s all work to create the environment that allows this to happen.