The Job (and Fallacy) of Journalism

Dear Jack,

I have no idea what avenues journalism will be communicated through by the time you read this – but I can’t imagine it being any more instant and saturating than it is right now.  We almost can’t escape it.  It’s sometimes great to know the absolute latest news – such as the BP oil spill disaster, or the latest on the wars in the Middle East.  But other issues, such as reports on the economy and celebrity news – good grief – what influence is this having on our minds?  With this information inundation right now, we have to ask ourselves the simple question: what is the job of journalism?  Is it to report the news in a fair and beneficial method?  Ideally, maybe yes – realistically, unquestionably no.

The job of journalism is to sell the next headline. This also happens to be the fallacy of journalism, because truth and relevance become secondary to the selling of tomorrow’s (or next hour’s) news.  No where else on this planet is this more evident than the “news” in the financial and economical world, which happens to be the world I live in.

I’ll pick on CNBC, since they’re probably the most watched station for “all things money.”  Let’s take a step back and examine their business model.  What makes the parent company money?  Viewers.  How can they get viewers to watch their show?  Give them something desirable (like advice on where/how to invest their money).  How do you keep viewers coming back?  Keep changing the advice.

The true way of creating and maintaining wealth (being diversified and disciplined and long-term focused) doesn’t sell headlines, so it doesn’t make CNBC any money.  The reporting of this may be fair and beneficial to the viewer, but not so beneficial to the journalistic source.

I’m not calling CNBC or any of its siblings and cousins evil, I just want to ensure that you see them for what they are.  And to realize what their business model is.  I think it’s worth repeating: the real world job (and fallacy) of journalism is not to inform the viewer/reader with fair and beneficial news – it is to sell the next headline.

Obviously, not all journalism is bad.  Three local publications, Connections, Business2Business, and Central Penn Business Journal, are all journalism publications, and I find great value from their material.  And selling the next headline isn’t necessarily a terrible thing.  I check my news websites and receive my subscriptions just as much as anyone else, but I constantly remind myself what the underlying purpose of each report is (to get me to come back for more).  And I will come back for more as long as I’m receiving perceived value from the material.  Till next time, Jack.



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