Post No.: 0151
A media broadcaster’s goal could be to, for instance, increase readership, increase revenues and/or support a particular political party or leaning. It’ll need to constantly make subjective decisions based on its own partisan and parochial interests and target-readership’s interests, and make personal (which will inevitably mean partial or biased) editorial decisions.
These editorial decisions will be based on each story’s perceived importance and seriousness or magnitude, for obvious reasons of salience and newsworthiness.
There’s also interest and prominence e.g. well-known people or people in important positions typically receive more attention than those who are not (especially the more of an ‘opinionated character’ they are it seems(!)) even though this may represent a very skewed sampling of the public’s views e.g. well-known people or politicians tend to be far wealthier than people in the general public on average hence they might not hold views that are in the interests of most people in the population on an issue. However, it’s not always favourable for those in the public eye because, for instance, although lots of people get drunk or otherwise do or say stupid things now and again, if a celebrity does or says something stupid then it’s going to get shared.
And then there’s novelty, unusualness or change – some events are reported precisely because they are rare e.g. aircraft accidents, terrorist attacks, Ebola deaths or a study that explores the health benefits of drinking red wine, whereas common i.e. boring, even though they might still be serious and present the stronger truths, more typical norms and more frequent events, tend to get ignored e.g. regular traffic accidents, the everyday kindness of people, seasonal flu deaths or yet another study that highlights problems related to excessive alcohol consumption. Oh yawn – another study espousing the benefits of regular exercise(!) And even if such a study got published, most people would just read past it anyway. But stronger truths come from common evidence rather than rare evidence, even though media supply and demand generally concentrates more on the rare.
Editorial decisions will also be based on each story’s perceived tragedy, conflict, misfortune or fears (thus skewing the perception of the balance of what’s good and not good in the world), impact and relevance to the audience (e.g. the larger the death toll or more global or deeper the implications then the more coverage a story will get), proximity (locally-affecting news is deemed as more important, all else being equal), immediacy (e.g. breaking news, giving the audience a sense of seeing events unfolding live), timeliness (e.g. anniversary events or deadlines), and popular trends (most people don’t want to miss out on what everyone else has seen or is seeing i.e. the ‘fear of missing out’). A human-interest story (a unique or universal experience exploring the human condition) is deemed more interesting too.
So to attract the most viewers or readers, the news concentrates on the unusual rather than the common, the novel (i.e. new, hence ‘news’) and temporary rather than things that shift slowly and less dramatically. The news therefore tends to present a distorted and non-fully-representative picture of the world, even when completely truthful. Also, news outlets often have to trade what’s the most important news for the public to know on the front page with whatever the advertiser who’s paying the most wants.
Or sometimes the most banal but attention-grabbing news or gossip will get on the front page rather than what’s the most important news for the public to know because it’ll grab more eyeballs or clicks, where eyeballs and clicks generally lead to more revenue and they’re ultimately businesses looking to make or even maximise profits. The news generally only reports on what’s interesting and alarming, which usually means stories involving conflicts, tensions, lies, cheating, salacious gossip and the like – so a person having a reasonably undramatic, happy and calm day, and who is being polite and respectful to all others, won’t get any media coverage – no matter how far more common these people and events are happening across the world!
This thus skews the perceptions of the world and of humanity in many people’s eyes. This is why the news can generally seem depressing – when things, people and the world are alright then it doesn’t tend to make for interesting things to write about (e.g. ‘yippee, another plane just landed okay!’ or ‘another set of neighbours of different ethnicities nodded and smiled at each other a minute ago!’) but negative stuff typically makes for more interesting stories to report.
So one must bear in mind that this sampling bias and negativity bias of stories doesn’t represent how the world generally is – the world is generally brighter! We should not overweight uncommon but over-reported events and underweight common but under-reported events – what’s hyped or highlighted may not be representative of the general norm or overall picture and best truth about the furry state of the world!
Or another perspective you could take is that, if you live in a ‘developed’ world country or not in a war-torn state then, chances are that any bad things happening in your life right now aren’t really that bad relative to what other people across the world may be facing e.g. far more terrorism occurs in war-torn countries than in your own country, even though you might skip past those news stories because they’re not happening around where you live, or the big news in your locality may be about potholes in the roads, which are important to sort out but some other groups around the world are starving or don’t have basic medical healthcare.
The exception to ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ are things that change slowly and less dramatically, which might be good things (e.g. levels of extreme poverty are decreasing across the world) but might also be less good things (e.g. deforestation and global warming). These tend to either get ignored or under-reported unless it’s tied to some other story that’s salient, such as the meeting of world leaders discussing that topic (no matter how much you think these stories are being reported). But still, overall, the world is more full of good people and things than bad people and things, even though we’ll have to keep an eye on and do something about those slowly moving threats.
To sum up – because the media is biased towards presenting dramatic stories or angles of fear or sensationalism in order to grab our attentions and ultimately sell papers or garner clicks on the adverts on their pages – the true world is actually a lot less stressful, scary and hopeless than you may believe. The world is not as bad as it is overall portrayed in the general mass media. The apocalypse is highly unlikely going to happen during the lifetimes of anyone currently alive today. Woof!
It’s not solely the media’s fault though – there’s a strong element of supply and demand. Demand influences supply, and supply influences demand. Both sides are responsible. It’s a result of evolution for us to pay more attention to stories of fear than stories of peace, to increase our chances of survival. Ignoring a happy story might mean we’ll miss an opportunity, but ignoring a threat might mean we’ll perish.
But these ancient instincts applied to this modern world of 24/7 news, and the escalation into deliberately tapping into our most primitive instincts to grab as much of our attentions as possible in this highly competitive media industry, means that many of us don’t feel able to relax and put things into their proper perspectives. And these strategies of the media – some fair game and some highly questionable – will likely continue to escalate because the game of attention is zero-sum i.e. if you’re paying your attention to one source then you’re not able to pay your attention to a competing source. So no one in this game can or will ease off, not least because some of the richest and most powerful companies in the world are in this industry.
If hordes of people weren’t impulsively drawn like zombies to such news stories or angles then the media arguably wouldn’t supply them. Increased regulations may be part of the solution, but the more educated and savvier we personally become as news consumers, the less we’ll be duped by things such as ‘false/fake news’ or clickbait too – and that’s why I will continue to write about this subject.
Woof! Furrywisepuppy knows this world can’t be that bad because you’re in it.