United States

Know the Power, Know the Media

Media and journalism are changing fast and so should the media research agenda.
 
Analyzing the role of social media in the recent elections in America, Farhad Manjoo wrote in the New York Times on 16 November 2016 that widespread misinformation online was a “primary factor in the race’s outcome.”
 
I would add that some mainstream media have equally (if not more so) contributed to that outcome. Worse, some of them wholeheartedly embraced that role.
 
Audiences drawn by coverage of Donald Trump have just been good for the business of television. Mr Trump drove ratings up and with them ad sales. The head of CBS TV station, Les Moonves boasted last February that all that coverage of Mr Trump “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” On top of corporate dollars, CBS and other major TV channels pulled in hefty revenues from political advertising. The cost of the 2016 U.S. elections was expected to reach an unprecedented US$11.4bn in political advertising and media buying, a significant jump from the US$7bn in the 2012 elections, according to data from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) released earlier this year.

Theories of American Media Failure: A Post-Election Map

Everybody agrees that media helped, to a great extent, make Trump president. So what went wrong? The week after election day, theories about media failure flooded American public sphere. Minna Aslama summarizes them.
 
Everyone has become a political scientist today: the United States elections have sparked a cascade of theories about why few people within the country and abroad anticipated the outcome. Equally, many commentators, on TV or in the pub, claim that they saw it coming, but that no one listened to them.
 
Judging from the public debate in America and abroad after the elections, no other institution or phenomenon is as much to blame as the media for how badly informed the public was, which in the end was what led to the election of Donald Trump. When citizens, pundits, and the media themselves are all calling for the reinvention of quality journalism, reform of news organizations, and rethinking of social media algorithms, looking back and mapping the explanations of how it all went wrong is a useful, and in some ways cathartic, exercise.
 

Is Donor Funding Bad for Journalism?

Funding from donors in the media has grown significantly during the past decade or so. Journalists welcome the charity. But when these awards come with editorial “advice”, we have a problem.
 
Thisisafrica.me is an online media outlet that brands itself as a “leading forum for African opinion, arts and music.” They cover a jumble of topics ranging from politics to corruption to sex and reproductive policies. The site publishes op-eds, interviews and investigations. Its journalism has been widely praised across the continent.
 
But in spite of its apparent popularity, Thisisafrica.me is in business mainly thanks to donor funding: cash doled out by foundations and deep-pocketed philanthropists. Without cash from donors, Thisisafrica.me wouldn’t exist. That is hardly surprising, especially on a continent ravaged by poverty where markets can rarely support high-quality journalism.
 
But over the past decade or so, as the internet and dwindling economies have clobbered mainstream media companies, funding independent journalism has become a major problem everywhere. Ad spend is down or spread to many more outlets than before. Newspaper circulations have dived. Journalists and media companies take funding from almost all kinds of givers, donors included. Even established media are increasingly resorting to private donors.

America’s Advertising Agencies Funnel Ad Cash to Their Own Media

Ad agencies in America have been increasingly buying stock in media companies to secure slots for their clients’ ads. Nothing would be wrong with that if they remembered one thing: to tell their clients, the advertisers, what they actually own.
 
Back in the old days, the advertising sales unit and the newsroom in major independent newspapers were two separate departments. Sometimes people in the two parts of the newspaper wouldn’t even be allowed to meet. The idea was to insulate the newsroom from the pressures of some advertising agencies who wanted inches of flattering coverage in exchange for spending ad dollars in the newspaper. The ultimate goal was to secure independent reporting.
 
Those days are gone. Advertisers, ad agencies and media companies collude more than ever these days.

Trust in Journalists and News Media Sinks to New Lows

The news media industry has been faced with a profound crisis for more than a decade now, and peoples' dwindling trust in journalists has much to do with it.
 
May was a nightmarish month for the 500 staff of Mega, the oldest privately owned channel in Greece, as the station was faced with closure following mounting debts, mostly to banks. In the end, the three families that control the channel - Psiharis, Bobolas and Vardinogiannis - agreed to increase Mega’s capital to save the channel from bankruptcy.
 
But the Mega crisis is illustrative of a much bigger problem that Greek journalism has been facing for years: the collusion between media and politics. Most of the country’s mainstream media was established by businessmen merely as PR channels for their other companies. Politicians don’t touch them as they enjoy the positive coverage; and owners fund the media through profits made in other companies.
 
It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, to see Greece at the bottom of the heap when it comes to trust in news organizations and journalists. Only one in five trust the news in Greece and a paltry 11% trust journalists, according to a survey run in 26 countries worldwide by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ).
 
Greece is not alone. Journalism has a growing trust problem in many other places.
 

TV News Stations Are Now Old News

As massive batches of viewers, particularly young ones, give up watching traditional TV, the broadcasting business is rapidly crumbling. For television news stations, that is a very bad omen.
 
When direct-broadcast satellite provider Dish Network launched  Sling TV in February last year, it was eying those swathes of viewers able and willing to pay for television, but not the fat bill that pay-TV companies send their subscribers at the end of the month. For a monthly fee of US$20, Americans can access a bouquet of TV channels anywhere and on any device through Sling TV, including mobile devices and computers. They don’t have to install a hulking antenna or satellite dish on the roof of their house.
 
In mid-April 2016, Dish Network threatened that it would cut its viewers’ access to the cable channels operated by Viacom. Dish Network was reportedly irked by requests from Viacom for an unreasonable increase (“millions of dollars,” according to Dish Network) in fees for carrying Viacom-owned channels such as MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon in spite of the decreasing audiences of these channels. In the end, they reached a deal.
 
The Sling TV venture and Dish-Viacom tussle are more than business as usual. They epitomize the jouncy ride the television business is having these days; not only in rich markets like the U.S., but increasingly, everywhere. The reason: consumers, particularly ballooning young audiences, have stopped watching the television diet fed to them on TV sets.
 
That is good news for some of the fast-growing online video providers. But for the television news industry, it practically means its demise.

Donald Trump: New Media Success, or Old Media Problem?

The Donald may be master of the Twitter-verse, but his influence extends at least as much from the structural contradictions of old media campaign coverage.
 
A year ago, experts were saying Donald Trump had little chance of winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency. A political outsider, he was an insult-prone, ticking time bomb who had never held political office; he exhibited not just ignorance of but contempt for the basic knowledge required for running the country, and he lacked the support of the party hierarchy.