When the Media Turns Into a Product

A quick treatise on what happens when the news transforms from a public utility to a commercialized product:

I’ve posted on this a number of times before, but it is important to remember that in the age of the internet, the news media is a PRODUCT and not a UTILITY.

For a majority of human history, information transfer was expensive. You had to be wealthy or powerful to transmit information. Even up until recently, the news was generated by a relatively small number of people.

News in this model was a UTILITY because it took something scarce (information) and made it accessible to people. If you were in Boston you depended on the Boston Globe to educate you on world/national events, sports, weather etc.

The internet completely upended traditional economic models of information distribution. Now it is virtually costless to generate and distribute information. Geographic and cultural boundaries don’t matter when information is transmitted wirelessly and everybody can receive it in their pocket for free.

Lastly, the news revenue model, which traditionally was stable subscriber bases and relatively untrackable ad sales, was destroyed by the new hyper-dynamic subscriber bases and trackable-down-to-the-pixel ads that promoted clicks and shares above all else (including quality).

The news media thus shifted to more of a PRODUCT model, where the supply is directly shaped to demand.

When the cost of information transfer, and cost of switching services, is zero, consumers have much more choice. The Boston Globe reader can now read the LA Times, or Deadspin, or Drudge, or Facebook. And he can switch between them instantaneously with no effort.

What, generally, do people want? They want to feel good. What makes them feel good? Being told they’re right and correct (and that the other side is wrong).

journalismThus the news media supply (as any product would do) has become an arms race of serving each of these segments of consumer demand with pandering content that affirms their worldviews while simultaneously provoking outrage and anxiety as a means to earn clicks and shares (for ad revenue).

Into this model enter today’s journalists…

Modern journalism tends to attract people who are, for lack of a better word, broken. They are unhealthy in body and spirit, they are obsessed with screens, artificial metrics (retweets etc), and hopelessly addicted to validation from their “audience” (who are mostly anonymous people who’ll jump ship to the next anonymous journalist once bored).

A study showed that journalist’s brains actually have lower executive function, they aren’t good at regulating emotions or suppressing biases. And why should they be? When the news media is a PRODUCT, success is defined by how well you capture emotions and articulate the biases of your audience, not in rational thinking.

What’s troubling is that, as we’ve seen, these broken toys, instead of being placed in the attic to rust, are celebrated and rewarded with extraordinary power to shape and destroy people’s lives, which intoxicates and corrupts them.

You’ve seen this story before! It’s the classic tale of the nerds from high school who spent their formative years feeling ostracized, lonely and embittered (often due to imaginary slights rather than actual aggression!), before stumbling onto an incredible source of power.

All of a sudden, THEY have the power to upend and destroy the lives of the people that once made them miserable (so they imagine). All of a sudden, these awkward geeks have a ferocious power. They can bring down executives and Hollywood stars. They can literally destroy people’s careers and livelihoods in a 180-character Tweet.

This power is intoxicating but it’s also deeply soul-corrupting. Look at how people like Sarah Jeong, and Reza Aslan, and [NPC #01024] tweet. It’s repulsive! It is not the behavior of well-adjusted, progressive people who are in calm command of their emotions and committed to living with dignity and reason. It is the behavior of mentally ill people.


The internet’s shift from UTILITY to PRODUCT has not only destroyed traditional media, it’s handed the keys to the car to the people who are the least fit to drive. But because the internet rewards what audiences want, all of the other mentally ill people who click and share this crap help propagate it.

Any student of mob dynamics, witch trials and social behavior in general would recognize this not as something new, but rather an older and more primal form of human interaction, given new life and breathtaking speed by the emergence of the internet.

Original screen cap here:

media as a product

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