Deterioration of News

Ravi Somaiya writes in the New York Times that

as more readers move toward online social networks, and as publishers desperately seek scale to bring in revenue, many have deplored a race toward repetitive, trivial journalism, so noisy that it drowns out more considered work.
Reading disposable web journalism is “like eating a whole bag of Doritos,” Joshua Topolsky, a founder of the technology website The Verge, said in an interview.
- Where Clicks Reign, Audience Is King, Ravi Samaiya, Aug. 16, 2015

He goes on to say that there have recently been complaints that online news has deteriorated, focusing increasingly on "the viral at the expense of the substantive." However, concern about this decline is not universal:

Others are not nearly as troubled.
“I like Doritos,” said Kevin Merida, a managing editor of The Washington Post.... He added: “We’re in the business of people reading our work. If we were to ignore the information that people are talking about, we would be news snobs.”

The economics of the internet force publishers to maximize audience size, so they focus on producing content with mass appeal. Topolsky comments:

“I think that we have, in trying to attack the totality of possible eyeballs on the Internet, lost the things that make publications great.”

Somaiya explains that

every publication now requires a greater number of readers to make ends meet. And perhaps the greatest potential resource are the billions who have turned to social media as a faster portal for information. That means journalists must now compete with entertainment, quizzes, gossip and baby pictures.
The weapon of choice is often emotion. Specialists optimize and test multiple headlines and pictures. If they land on a successful formula — asking a provocative question, hinting at a profound experience, including a celebrity name — it is quickly echoed by other outlets.

New York Times "Public Editor" Liz Spayd, commenting on the Times' production of videos shown on Facebook, provides evidence of the shift from coverage of what is important to production of content that will attract the most attention.

It’s great when The Times hits the mark, as it did with a young man who was shot in the back while trying to elude the Orlando gunman last June. The video is raw and unpolished as Norman Casiano calmly gives a blow-by-blow of being squeezed into a bathroom stall with other panicked clubgoers desperate to escape. It drew 1.6 million views.
- Liz Spayd, Facebook Live: Too Much, Too Soon, NYT, Aug. 20, 2016

Mr. Trump's election supports the view that what matters is not the truthfulness or quality of what is communicated. The key to success in the marketplace of ideas, apparently, is fanatical focus on ratings.

''Mr. Trump has long been a ratings obsessive: He keeps photocopies of decade-old Nielsen charts and regularly called network executives at home to brag about “Apprentice” numbers. He likes to remind television news producers about the big ratings he attracts...."
- DAVID E. SANGER, MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM, CORAL DAVENPORT and NICHOLAS FANDOS, Trump Nods to D.N.C. Hack but Says It Had ‘No Effect’ on Election, NYT, 1/6/2017

Today's economic threat to traditional news media is mirrored by a similar problem in the porn industry. Mark Hay reports:

Free tube sites and their rampant piracy have eviscerated traditional pornography. From 2007 to 2011, the industry collapsed by 50 per cent; Kink, an especially successful site, reported its first losses at the end of that period. Larry Flynt, the notorious Hustler mogul, only half-jokingly requested a federal bailout for the industry in 2009. ...
You basically can’t make any money out of straight, vanilla sex anymore, because there’s so damn much of it available for free. To goose their profits, porn producers – much like distributors – have started to turn to data mining. Unlike the tube sites, though, they’re not using it passively. Instead they’re using it to guide the kind of content they create, deliberately shifting the industry toward more extreme, more profitable genres. ...
Meanwhile, behavioural experts vocally doubt whether targeted pornography will really affect us, given how rarely people change their established preferences, to which they flock regardless of what’s being flung at them. The rise of porn data, some of them argue, just makes it easier for people to locate and talk about their sexual happy places. ...
Yet these perspectives discount the experience of novices diving in with ill-formed preferences and of those who just tend to go with the flow. They also do not reflect the reality of an adult industry whose economic foundation has been thoroughly shattered. The pursuit of the most rabidly loyal audience has already driven political websites and talk radio to polarising extremes, with vast societal implications. Fearing similar outcomes in the world of pornography and sexuality is not entirely outlandish.
- Mark Hay, Datagasm, Aeon, July 14, 2016

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