As the U.S. primaries heat up, especially as more candidate debates occur, there’s more and more discussion about how the news presents inaccurate pictures of the candidates and their positions because, as the allegations go, the reporters are biased. That ignites a collateral debate about whether or not that is the case. I’m going to end that debate right here: the news media is biased and it is going to get more biased – much more biased – and it is going to be a global phenomenon. We’re no longer going to have the pleasure of living with a shared “truth” – and we’ll lose that as a tool in how we organize our society. Here’s my case (and a note of caution)….
This is so fundamental that it is basically inane to even ponder the question of media bias. The media makes its money by delivering to advertisers a group of people the advertisers want to reach. As cable television, and then the Internet, exploded with more options where people can go for their entertainment or news, the audience could become more selective. Now, for example, instead of getting information about where to go on a vacation, the information-seeker can hone-in precisely on the type of vacation they want: an all-inclusive resort with golf in the Caribbean at a specific price. That means the provider of the focused range of options will attract the exact right audience for the all-inclusive resort owner wanting to attract their most likely customers. Naturally, that is where the all-inclusive resort is going to advertise. And that means the provider of that information is going to be biased about what their viewers want – so that they can tell their advertisers they deliver the best audience. That bias is built-into what it means to be an information provider. Without a bias, the media loses its audience. Without an audience, it generates no revenue. Bye.
What is the case for our example about where people turn for information about vacation choices, is also the case for where people turn for information about events and viewpoints, including political events and viewpoints. They may want just news that is totally untainted with a viewpoint, and then their choice would be a relatively bland production. And, in that case, their choice will still be biased, except in the direction of being biased to providing totally factual news without emotion. It’s more likely that the person wanting news will know that they feel more comfortable when events are discussed with (or without) a religious taint, or with more concern about individual rights, or less attention paid to baseball, antipathy for bigger government, etc. People will choose the distribution channel that caters to their needs and interests.
But the source of the information not only has to attract its audience, it has to keep its audience as well. And that means they have to keep catering to their audience. That’s especially the case as they get more competition from other information sources who will try to steal away part of their market. So, what do they do? They emphasize their approach to how they deliver news – if they attracted their initial audience because of their emphasis on detailed coverage of a candidate’s religious views, for example, they are going to have to provide even more detailed coverage on that factor. In turn, they will become more biased.
Juxtapose over these business forces the explosion of opportunities people have to get the information they want from online sources – it becomes obvious that information distributors will narrow the information they provide to cater to even more precise interests. In turn, the bias will grow non-stop as audiences are sliced and diced and diluted in size.
Over the horizon, we will see distribution sources become increasingly biased to meet their competitive challenges. We will see the total number of sources of information continue to explode as the cost and knowledge to launch an Internet-based news outlet decreases to virtually nothing – all that will be needed will be content and promotion.
As each outlet becomes more and more expert at catering to their audience in order to protect that audience from being eroded by competition, their audience will have less reason to drift to other alternatives. Consequently, the audience will rely more and more on that source. And that source will become increasingly considered the font of “truth” for that audience. If (as I expect) people resist the opportunity to seek news elsewhere, they will get less exposure to the “truth” being distributed by others. As this phenomenon is extrapolated, we’ll see that there will be a multitude of different truths for people of different interests. And the assumed relationship we now have between “truth” and “fact” will be irrelevant. Then try organizing social groups, nations, passions, etc. Good luck to us all.