The News Business

Hurricane Harvey, and now Irma, remind us that the news media is not a public service: it is a for-profit business. The Business sells ratings to advertisers, not actually useful information or analysis. Thus, the hurricane is the story, not the fact that cities like New Orleans and Houston are sitting at sea level with nowhere for the water to go or that the building codes of the Florida coast bear no relation to its geography. Cities are also behavioral and economic sinks, filled with people with no means to weather a natural disaster--which, of course, is the only reason a natural phenomenon becomes a "disaster." Cities are, in a word, fragile.

The Business is also an oligopoly, thanks to IP laws and founder effects, in the economic and cultural sense. Like all oligopolies, the Business is concerned primarily with maintenance of its oligopoly status.

The State, special interests, and others use this oligopoly to great effect. The interests of the State and its patrons coincide very nicely with the interests of the Business. They create Panic where there is no need for panic and Complacency where there is need for Urgency. Thus, in Atlanta today, hysterical people shut down a city over wind and rain; meanwhile, population density increases and giant poplars and oaks tower over power lines.

Apply this analysis to any crisis out there: hunger in Africa, not explosive r-selected reproductive practices; HIV/AIDS, not self-destructive behavior; poverty, not poor life-choices.

None of this is to deny the tragic and often capricious nature of human suffering nor to suggest that we should not seek to alleviate suffering. Poverty can result from illness or economic displacement. Unforeseen natural disasters and social catastrophes do occur. But there is a stubborn resistance to thinking critically about root causes and perverse incentives. And the Business, of all the institutions, is fundamentally and structurally not motivated even to ask the right questions.


Anonymous said…
The problem runs even deeper. "News" is by definition that which is new and unusual, out of the ordinary- "Man bites dog" events. "News" is therefore intrinsically unreliable for developing an empirically-grounded worldview. (Except, I suppose, if you're very skeptical, have an excellent memory, and are naturally good at subtle pattern recognition, and even then it takes a long time). Persistent and long lasting social problems like illegal immigration and black-on-black crime are ignored not so much out of liberal bias (though that certainly contributes) but mostly because they're commonplace, predictable, and depressing- not "news".

This explains a lot of contemporary lefty hysteria, and why they're out in the streets protesting against totally nonexistent threats. Lacking a solid foundation for critical thinking, their picture of the world is saturated with legions of villainous men with a strange predilection for biting innocent canines, but they've barely heard of dogs biting humans.