“News is a business, not a public service”

I recently asked my friend Bob (a really fine journalist) about an idea I came across in a WSJ column by Peggy Noonan. The following line sort of sums it up:

“Great reporting is what every honest person wants now, it’s the one ironic thing we have less of in journalism than we need.”

Bob responded with this quote by Alex Rohr, President of Rohr News Network, a fictional character in a novel (The Race) by Richard North Patterson:

“The old model was that news is fact, and objectivity the ideal. Today’s truth is that “news” like anything else we sell to the public, is a product. Our news product isn’t some abstract notion of truth, or even reality. It’s a story–consistent and repetitive, with a message that’s emotionally fulfilling to the viewer. We mislead no one. Turn on (our news), and you’re getting exactly what you want. I can help you feel better about this war, or fighting terrorists, and you don’t have to think about them anymore. If we also use that power to promote our friends and advance our interests, so be it. News is a business, not a public service.”

And our nation is poorer for it.

2 thoughts on ““News is a business, not a public service”

  1. I have just one problem with the quote Bob provided you. There is one snippet of the quote, I believe, is false,
    “I can help you feel better about this war, or fighting terrorists, and you don’t have to think about them anymore.
    The media, in general terms, doesn’t present or “report” the war or fighting terrorism in a way that makes most Americans “feel better” about it.

  2. The kernel of this issue is that the free market is not the solution to all problems. In a marketplace, by definition, there must be winners and losers, and nobody is objective because the priority is to make sure you are not the loser. The higher ideals of pure journalism, where truth stands on its own, is not compatible.
    It’s as if people who trust in markets for everything are not comfortable unless all aspects of life can be framed within an adversarial, win-lose, kill-or-be-killed context. Were these folks all abused as children?
    Things free markets are not compatible with:
    – Truth (journalism)
    – Beauty (art)
    – Compassion (medicine)
    – Idealism (politics)
    Hm, perhaps it is instead the right-wing free marketers who are incompatible with truth, beauty, compassion, and idealism.

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