Several months ago I read an ad for Global Television seeking an assignment manager. The ad was full of all the right buzzwords you would expect but hidden away among all those nice buzzwords was a chilling prospect. Part of the job was coordination of editorial content among various elements of the Global/Can West media empire, seeking to maximize the bottom line. Or is that to toe the party line?
I grew up in an era of newspaper competition and contrasting editorial viewpoints. It is disturbing to think about how we have lost all these differing views to media conglomeration, to consider the stifling effect that media conglomeration has on the debate and reporting of issues both large and small. While coordinating editorial content may be advantageous to the bottom line, what is the cost to the public in reporting of stories and presentation of diverse and opposing viewpoints? Where once we were presented with opposing views, ideas and thoughts on important issues we now get one (‘the company’) point of view. Important issues often are no longer examined from many angles and we are no longer exposed to all views, thoughts of considerations needed to make important choices/decisions. Making decisions may appear easier since we are given far less to think about. But, is it a good idea to be seeking or more accurately to be accepting this easy way out? Is it reasonable to be seeking easy, simple answers in an increasingly complex world? Does/has not this approach just lead/resulted in making BAD decisions?
How much does the corporate drive for bottom line results affect what appears in the paper/magazine/television news? I grew up with our ‘local’ paper being owned and published by a resident of the town. I knew the family who were members of the local community. On occasion things got a little lean when the paper took a position on important local issues that some advertisers disagreed with. As a citizen the owner/publisher took these positions and accepted the (temporary) revenue downturns because some important issues need to be addressed and someone will disagree with the papers position. Now the Herald is part of a chain, as are the Abbotsford papers, and focused on the bottom line. To avoid offending advertisers and decreasing revenue, the public ends up with sanitized, do not offend anybody stories.
Another major effect is that of the drive to reduce costs. To address a complex issue such as homelessness is going to require time for research, investigation and thought – perhaps a series of articles. This approach represents a far higher cost than just banging out simple stories. This addressing of complex events carries a significant chance of offending some vested interest, with the potential for a negative effect on the bottom-line.
Doubt this? Think back a few months to the picture of the woman in the hat with the large flower and her dog in her arms. Nice easy story about the closing of the Fraser Inn. The harder part, the most costly part would be a story about: where is she now? What effect did the closing of the Fraser Inn have on her? On other displaced residents? What has the welfare system done for – or to – her? Does she need help now? Do the other ex-residents? What actions did the city take (not take) in accepting (denying) responsibility for the effect of its actions on the innocent bystanders (the residents) of its feud with the owners of the Fraser Inn? Not very likely to be written since it could discomfort readers and advertisers, it would take time and effort and it would/could have a negative effect on bottom line maximization.
The problem with having to rely on media providing the information to make decisions on complex issues, in this current age of media conglomerates, lies in the old computer programmers’ adage:
GARBAGE IN = GARBAGE OUT