Don’t like the news coverage? It’s more your fault than you might think

Walter Cronkite photo courtesy BBC

I had dinner this week with two old friends to talk about politics.  They voted for President Trump, but are otherwise Hoosiers just like me. They are talk radio listeners and Fox News viewers, lost as to why the left has become so hostile.

They were looking for a civil conversation with the “other side,” and were struggling to find someone to have it with.  Shockingly, this is why they called me of all people.

Dinner lasted long enough that even though I had the lasagna, by the time I got home, I was hungry again. Two of our topics stuck with me more than the food.

First, I asked my friends if they thought the Affordable Care Act had been successful.  They quickly responded “no,” citing their concerns with sustainability and the “crumbling” marketplace of insurance products.  But when I asked them if more Americans have access to healthcare today then they did in 2010, they agreed the answer is yes.  When I asked them if they agreed that healthcare is a right or a privilege in America, they agreed it is a right. For me, that equates to “success.”  They, however, had not even thought about it that way.

It was obvious that their chosen media outlets also don’t present it that way.

How do we get what we rely on as our “facts” and how has that changed over time? They didn’t even look at their news-following behavior as “consumption.”  In other words, they seem to view themselves as involuntary receivers of information thrust upon them without the power to impact it.

Sound familiar?

Our next discussion was the Brett Kavanaugh saga.  They believe he was mistreated and that he absolutely should have been confirmed.  But when I asked them what they think would have or could have happened had he not been confirmed, they had no solid idea or expectation. When I suggested that President Trump could have simply nominated someone else, and the Senate could have rushed that nominee through, they were seemingly hearing that for the first time. They were unfamiliar with the rest of the process.

Their own lack of healthy curiosity led them to consume a week’s worth of media that was clearly void of a pretty important part of the story.  That is what I describe as a consumer, or a “demand” problem.  Not a “supply” problem. The information was available.  They were simply not drawn to it and didn’t choose to consume it.

“Media” is and always has been a market.  The internet and digitization has made it more competitive than it once was, but it has always been a market. Even as a child, my family could choose between John Chancellor and Walter Cronkite.

For a market to exist, there must be certain conditions.  Ask an economist what those conditions are and the answers won’t vary much. They include things like the freedom of choice, competition and supply and demand. Most of the answers describe the American media market. That is until you get to the list of factors that includes “perfect knowledge” or “perfect information” about the market’s product. That’s where consumers of media seem to get lost.

When information is the product, how does a consumer know when it is “perfect?”  This is where the media consumer has to work a little. Does factual accuracy make the information more “perfect?” Do our consumption choices reflect that?

By making truth-telling a vital component of the quality we want, we do impact the products that are available.

I consume more news than the average person, buying more than I probably should.  I subscribe to three Indiana news outlets, two national ones and three weekly newsletters.  That’s before I see a social media post from some other news outlet or watch TV. I also go out of my way to read things I expect to disagree with but often don’t, like the National Review.  I don’t purchase it, but I often consume it.

It is unreasonable to expect consumers to consume news like me.  But I simply cannot tolerate the complaints coming from Americans about bias in the media without having a conversation about the consumer’s role in that market.

Markets respond to its customers.  That’s how salads ended up on the menu at McDonald’s.

Media consumers need to make better choices. The market will only respond to that.

We all know the difference between a salad and a Big Mac, just like a responsible media consumer should know the difference between facts and total BS.

 

 

1 comment

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  • Maybe, but it’s human nature to indulge in that Big Mac, even knowing the difference. I believe there was a time that we could rely on the media so we wouldnt have to seek out answers and information not readily available to the average Joe. In addition, when leaders of the left and right spew out political contradictions to the public, is it any wonder our interpretations are off with all our varied backgrounds and experiences. Diligence is always appropriate, but if the sources are not trustworthy, it might be easier to use common sense and just tune out the media outlets, except for pure entertainment value.

Michael Leppert

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