Why The Media is Failing
(And no, it’s not the Internet’s fault)
I recently found myself in a little hot water. Without naming names, or going into specifics, I wrote a story that was deemed unacceptable by the parties involved. This is of course, not the first time this has happened (nor will it be the last), as I run a website that pokes fun at just about everything. But this time, the offended party happened to owe us money. So upon a threat to withhold money owed, I initially removed the post. Screw it, I got bills to pay. After a bit of thought though I realized, the money in question wasn’t nearly enough, and frankly that went against everything I stand for, so I put it back up.
Then I received a panicked phone call from someone who genuinely seemed to feel their job was in jeopardy over said post, and although I explained that though their ad contract wasn’t worth it to me, I am not a monster (and the story was old news anyway) so I again removed it. Of course, it had already found it’s way to another blog at that point, because well, that’s just the nature of the internet.
But the whole situation illustrates the exact reason the media is failing, and it’s the same reason we’ll probably never get universal health care. Corporations (or in this case advertisers) control everything. With YoBeat, I put up a little bit of a fight, because we’re small enough that I can, but when you run a magazine, newspaper, or even website, with a staff and large overhead, you certainly can’t say no to someone who is paying those bills. Or at least, that’s how it seems.
What happens is pretty soon you’re only reading what the companies want you to read. If that’s what the readers wanted though, there would be no magazines at all. Everyone would be content and excited to flip through catalogs to get their news and information (when of course, they can’t get online.) But if things don’t change, (the American media needs how to make subscriptions the primary source of income as they do in Europe) pretty soon all we’ll have left are catalogs, so you better learn to love them!
Of course, you can try to blame it on the internet. People don’t need magazines and newspapers because there are a million websites just giving information and entertainment away for free! But the reality is the internet is full of useless information and terrible blogs. If you want quality information, you are most likely to find it on a site that is run like a media business, meaning, they are reliant on advertising to pay the bills. Believe it or not, it still costs money to produce content and if (college) educated and informed people aren’t doing it, it’s not going to resemble anything near journalism. I went to J school, so I can tell you, even I (who knows everything), learned a thing or two there (including the right to fair comment and criticism.)
The other big problem with the online media is it’s easily bought (but more easily disguised.) In the old media, advertorials have always been frowned upon, and when they are done, clearly marked. On YoBeat we have one sponsored feature (well, we did.) When the agreement was first reached, the plan was to host a banner ad for the company alongside the column, but when it launched, they decided they no longer wanted the ad attached to the content. I explained (in sales terms) that this is what they were paying for and they eventually agreed. Honestly though, even with the permanent banner, it was not made nearly clear enough that the content is on the site only because they are paying for it to be there. But it’s the Internet, so no one seems to care. Since I care, I have added one line to each column: This column brought to you by: and it makes me feel much better.
It will also hopefully save me an $11,000 fine, as the FTC just announced new regulations requiring even bloggers to disclose any gifts or payments they receive for promoting a product. A few of the bloggers I know have expressed concern over the matter, the more honest ones actually going back to make sure they divulged which products they got for free. But most bloggers I know don’t care. Is the FTC really going to go after small action sports blogs because they got a free snowboard? Some how I doubt it, but you know what? It would be great if they did. And while they are at it, crack down on the print magazines as well.
Because I work in snowboarding, no one seems to care about any of the ethics usually involved in the media. It’s not exactly world ending, you know. But ethics and quality journalism aside, the overall content of quality is suffering because it is paid for by people who think that entitles them to dictate what the content is (or is not.) Because a brand wants to send its team of rookies into the backcountry instead of experienced riders who can actually ride the stuff, the photos suffer as does the overall quality of the feature. Stories that everyone seems to be enjoying (or at least are stirring things up) get taken down because someone owes money. And it continues like this until the only things left are the advertisements themselves. Enjoy!