How the News Media Works (Or Doesn’t)

The structure of the U.S. and global news media is undergoing rapid change – change that may soon make outdated the concept of news (as opposed to entertainment or other “soft” information media).

Much of this change stems from the trend toward media conglomerates – vast empires that may include a chain of papers, lifestyle magazines, radio and TV stations, a cable network, a movie studio, a book division and an online service. News outlets are no longer run as public trusts with a unique responsibility to society, but as pure consumer products, marketed like soft drinks. (In the news business, cities aren’t cities any more; they’re “markets.”)

As recently as the 1970s, newspapers dominated news coverage, with TV and radio playing catch-up on whatever stories the papers broke. No more.

Go into any newspaper these days, and you’ll find the editors keeping a close watch on a bank of TV sets tuned to local newscasts and CNN. With the exception of a few prestigious national papers – The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times – U.S. papers are driven by the same values that prevail on TV: short, simple, reader-friendly reports, heavy on crime and celebrities. (More on these trends can found in Ben Bagdikian’s invaluable The Media Monopoly.)

Still, it does no good to whine. If you want to reach a mainstream audience, learn to work with the media structure as it exists