Stop blaming the media for everything. They’re only giving you what you’re asking for.
When I was in Journalism Grad School in 2005, Anderson Cooper came and spoke to my class. He told us a story that has forever changed the way I feel about the business of news.
CNN, he said, tracks its ratings by the minute. They not only know how many people tune in for a show, they know what segment of the show has the most viewers. He said he remembered one day very vividly when he and his team had put together a well-rounded newscast. There were stories on politics, foreign affairs, etc. And he said there was one three-minute span in the middle of the newscast where the ratings spiked. And I mean really spiked. Like the newscast hummed along at a three but this jumped the needle up to ten. And what was it that tantalized his viewers so?
A story on Michael Jackson. This would have been 2004 or so, right in the middle of his trial. An interesting story? I don’t know, not really. Certainly not important. But we know by now that people don’t want news, they want gossip. So now you tell me: if you’re a CNN executive, what are you going to tell Anderson Cooper to do more of on his next broadcast?
That’s the day I realized that the media isn’t the problem; it’s just a giant mirror. It is a business after all, so you know any decision made is driven by one factor: money. They’re not going to start covering important, relevant news until you start asking for it. They won’t change until you do. So maybe it’s time to start doing that.
Think of it like voting or recycling, two solid examples of the following mindset: “It won’t matter if I don’t do it.” Elections aren’t decided by one vote and the world isn’t going to catch on fire if you throw that plastic bottle in the garbage. That’s what makes this such a tricky truth. You, as an individual, don’t matter much. But you have a secret weapon. You’re a member of society.
What we do, collectively, matters. Our individual voices may not be heard, but they can come together to produce a loud chorus that must be reckoned with. That’s why we recycle. That’s why we vote.
And that’s why you should stop clicking on stories about Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump. If you lose interest, they’ll stop covering it, I promise. It’s just that simple.