Amanda D. Lotz is professor of Communication Studies and Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan. Her research examines the operations of the U.S. television and the representation of gender on television. She teaches courses about media industries and gender in media.
The Media is a Business
There has been a lot of discussion about “the media” in recent months. “The media” are an easy scapegoat for social ills, but “the media” doesn’t exist any more than The Government, The Church, or any other incredibly large sector so vast and varied as to make claims about it meaningless. The Media include local radio stations, film studios, and television channels, but they do—for the most part—have something in common.
In the U.S., “the media” are businesses. When we are upset with “The Media” it is almost always because they are doing what they are meant to do—acting like businesses that succeed by making money. The most likely answer for why you hear, see, or read anything from a media outlet is that an editor or producer believed that this content would help the outlet make money.
Most U.S. media rely—either fully or in part—on advertising revenue. Success for advertiser-supported media is measured in the number of listeners, viewers, or readers drawn by media content—and whose attention is then sold to advertisers.
Many of the things that attract our attention are not those that make us smarter, better informed, or better people. In many cases we are most attracted to things that speak to our fear, reinforce our outrage, or amuse us.
In order to have media that aim to investigate or illuminate, we need to have media that aren’t foremost businesses based on selling our attention. Public service media don’t measure success by gathering the most eyeballs, but by fulfilling a mission. In the U.S., the Corporation for Public Broadcasting aims to: “provide programs and services that inform, educate, enlighten…inform civil discourse …and encourage the development of content that involves creative risk and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences.”
As with so many aspects of modern life, we get what we pay for.