Media Pessimism

Jim wrote a post entitled Are People Inherently Pessimests?

I think the answer is no, most of the people I know I would label as “realists”. But it’s clear that the view we get is fairly pessimistic.

I was initially going to say that it was because of the focus taken by the media, but after a bit of reflection, I think it’s inherent in the current media landscape.

In the old days – say, the 1970s – each of the major networks had a large news organization, who viewed their goal as “informing the public”. There was a gentlemen’s agreement that they would limit themselves to “real news”. And news was, at that time, pretty good, though the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” was around at this point.

Fast forward a bit, and the cable channels come up. This has two big effects:

1) Network programming has more competition, and therefore news budgets are at risk.
2) Cable news doesn’t comply with the “gentlemen’s agreement”.

The second effect switches the question from “is this news?” to “will people watch this?”. This puts pressure on the all news organizations, as high ideals (as they say) don’t put food on the table – you need people to want to watch this. Hence the shift from reporting to “debate” or “analysis” shows – it’s easier (ie cheaper) and (some feel) more entertaining to watch two people debate the motives of political parties on a current issue than to investigate and report on the issue in depth. And you never have to worry about not having enough material to fill time.

In the case Jim refers to, the viewership potential is much much higher if you report on the worst rather than report on the back. It’s not that people are pessimistic, it’s that the pessimistic interpretation is more interesting than the mundane one, typically expressed as “Dog bites man” vs. “man bites dog”.

So, I think it’s not surprising that we got to this point, as market forces pushed people there. And I don’t think blogs are the answer – if anything, blogs just increase the amount of opinion that’s out there, not the amount of information.

Comments (2)

  1. john says:

    Agree with the comment on blogging, but, can you measure the amount of information? Each measurement must itself be informative. Information is impossible to judge?

    Before information there was the formative ideal (bildung). Somehow we went from formation to information. I wonder what makes the difference. Can it be the simple two letter word ‘in’? Are we led by two letter words? Strange …….

  2. Scot Boyd says:

    Funny, I always said that a "realist" was how a pessimest identified themselves. 🙂