27 October 2017

How informative is media really. The incentives on any media organization are like the incentives on any other company - to make profits. Media also aims to make people informed on important facts. That’s how people perceive the value of media. That, and entertainment. All media wants people to consume it, in order to get revenue from subscriptions, or from advertisement.

Let’s temporary make a distinction between media as a business, and media as an informer. Every media outlet has a bipolar disorder between these two. The decision makers in each media sometimes decide with their business hat, and sometimes they do it with their informant hat.

It makes sense to balance the two. If the media spends too much resources on developing the content, the final product will be of higher quality, but more expensive. But the slight increase in quality, would not justify a steep increase in price, for the customers. Most of them would stop using it, and that would make it not viable financially. Instead, if the media spends too little resources, then the quality of the content will go down, and customers will flee for the opposite reason.

Each media business needs to find a sweet spot in terms of price and quality. And that sweet spot derives from the current market conditions and the ability of the management and employees.

Internet affects the sweet spots in a profound way. Some might say “disruptive”. On the Internet, the distribution cost of media is a lot lower than before. They can move over to low-precision low cost land for their facts supply. I think it is great to have such choice. It improves market efficiency, but by adding a new lowest sweet spot, it triggers a gradual reconfiguration of all existing sweets spots before.

As some people flock to the low precision land for their supply of “facts”, this changes the demographics of those who remain willing to pay for high precision media. With fewer and fewer customers, there are more biases in their overall views. And each media, consciously or subconsciously will start tending more and more to the tastes of this population. And thus, each media becomes more and more biased.

But it’s not purely the media’s fault. It’s ours as well. We all tend to believe more the facts which agree with our opinions, and ignore the facts which disagree. And media feeds us only what we like to digest. The tasty facts. By forcing media to adapt to our tastes, we increasingly fake-ify it. Media had objectivity and coverage issues before, but now these are exacerbated, and much more fundamental to media’s existence.

It’s not clear how the media landscape will develop, and whether there will be a high precision, high recall media in the future. This depends on market conditions, and technology improvements. What we can do meanwhile is to apply pressure on media to be more objective, but not merely by complaining to the media about facts we don’t like.

No, each of us needs to be a little bit more critical of facts that seem too good or too bad to be true, and to more often look at facts we disagree with, with a little bit of benefit of the doubt. Just like we all know that a single unrecycld cardboard box trash won’t damage the environment, but if everyone recycles then we are much better off, we will all be better off if we are more critical about our media’s objectivity.

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