News Business is a Business

Austin Cline laments the fact that the news media is giving an “undeservedly large amount of attention” to the death of Anna Nichole Smith and the ensuing legal wrangling and to trivial matters such as Britney Spears’ decision to shave her head. While our politics are virtually 180 degrees apart, we agree on the relative merits of these stories.

The bottom line, though, is that the business of journalism is business. That for-profit businesses lead with the news that they believe, correctly it turns out, that their audience is most interested in should hardly be surprising. That’s how they sell advertising, keep and expand their audience, and ensure their employees can feed their families and pay their mortgages. The fact that “corporations are now pretty much in control of the network news divisions” is nothing new. Further, General Electric and Time Warner are more able to absorb losses than would be a small group of private owners.

More importantly, these fluffy stories pay for the stuff Cline and I find interesting. There’s hardly a dearth of good reporting on matters of war, international affairs, and domestic public policy. Indeed, there’s more of it than most of us can keep up with.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Nick says:

    That’s right, where the consumer goes, that’s what the media will report. They get the ratings report every night, so if it’s high, they’ll continue to report on it.

    I experience the same thing with my blog. I have this one post about a fastfood mascot (Jollibee) doing it with another mascot, and it received traffic through the roof.

  2. John Burgess says:

    I will happily give my custom to the media outlet that says, ‘Enough is enough’ and drops all coverage of ‘celebrity’.

    But I guess I’m in too small a demographic to make business sense.

  3. About twelve years ago was the first time my disappointment in news reporting escalated to the point I decided to not waste my time viewing or reading it. My prediction that OJ’s trial, etc., would dominate TV for a few years had occured and enough was enough. My information stream was limited to financial and sports television. Between CNBC and ESPN it was amazing I didn’t miss anything since major world events were mentioned in those sources and very few bottom feeder stories were displayed. The number of accident, crime and other morbid curiosity pieces appeal to the largest demographic spawning “reality tv” and other nonsense.
    I have not subsribed to cable in more than five years and my “off air” consumption is extremely limited. The internet is my main source of information. It has problems too but the choices and content selection offer analysis and contrast not found in traditional sources.