With the coming of the information age, there is a greater diversity of news media outlets than ever before. Then why are they all reporting the same things?
On any given day, I can look at the front pages (or the digital equivalent thereof) of many different publications and find articles that are essentially the same, regardless of the news source. The headlines are typically interchangeable. In fact, until recently, I did not even see the merit in reading different news sources, as the information I garnered was largely the same. I learned about the same tragedies, in the same places, that affected the same people. It wasn’t even until I looked closer, and harder, and at more obscure news sources, that I realized the wealth of information that the vast majority of news sources neglect, whether consciously or unconsciously, to cover.
The genocide against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the plight of the Yazidi people in Syria, and even aspects of the Israel-Palestine conflict–for whatever reason, these issues, among others, are noticeably absent from most major news outlets. However, the question that bears repeating is why.
Who decides what kinds of news are available to the public? Why is the chosen news portrayed the way it is?
A vicious cycle
When looked at from a purely capitalist perspective, news coverage follows a familiar cycle. The media companies print what their readers want to hear, and the readers want to read about what they know. The ensuing cycle ensures that the public remains ignorant. However, the reverse logic also applies–readers cannot want to read more about that which they are not aware of, therefore incentivizing the continued coverage of certain issues, but not others.
The financial incentives can be traced back to most new media companies inherent desire to make money. These media outlets could, hypothetically, print whatever news they wanted, however instead of informing the public most news ’ main goal is to increase capital. sources’ goal is to grow as a company. Therefore, these news sources see the best way to make money as following the same vicious cycle to maximize readership.
The reason that these news sources behave more as corporations than as news sources is that they are primarily corporations and only secondarily news sources. In fact, the lack of diversity in content and prioritization of money-making stems mostly from the vast majority of news sources association with a ‘parent company.’
According to a recent study, over 90% of the news consumed is owned by only six corporations: Comcast, Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, News Corp, and CBS. These “Big Six” news conglomerates control just about everything: television, radio, print and online news. Because they are controlled by large news corporations, the incentive to make money is even greater, and so is the influence over which kinds of news to cover in order to maximize profits.
The problem, however, arises in what and how the news outlets report. The mere fact of news being controlled by corporations would be a non-issue if the media outlets’ parent corporations were not intervening in the outlets’ content. However, this is unfortunately not the case.
In each one of the various newspaper and other news sources that I regularly read, the topics covered are largely the same. Their only major difference is partisanship.
How to change the news
The only way to end the vicious cycle is to be the first to break it. As has already been established, the news outlets will not, and cannot, be the first to break this cycle. Corporations will always want to capitalize on media outlets, and therefore figuratively force their hands in terms of the news they print. However, if the readers of news outlets begin to demand increased coverage of a greater diversity of news, media outlets will be forced to comply. The vicious cycle can be reversed with a positive outcome.
When the Black Lives Matter movement began, news outlets were the last to pick up the stories of young black men who had been victims of police brutality, largely at the prodding of activists on social media. However, as proclaimed by many of the aforementioned activists, police brutality didn’t begin when media coverage did. Coverage of a broader array of issues in the media can only begin when the public demands it. So, as the news-consuming populace, we must demand greater coverage of news to reverse the vicious cycle.