The Kavanaugh hearings today are bringing up another instance where the news media dominates. Another salacious story that grabs eye balls and headlines. The old saying “sex sells” certainly applies. The numbers show there is nothing better than a scandal to capture viewers. An inside view of the actual business of media provides clarity that news is a commodity sold to advertisers. A captive engaged audience that can be yours for a price. Demographic studies and retention all play key roles and news outlets must substantiate ratings. They are in the business of selling specifically targeted audiences to the highest bidder. Objectivity cannot be the main goal when you are competition for dollars. News audiences have a huge value and competition has become so significant that the news agencies can no longer survive without finding alternate revenue sources. Dominant in this alternative revenue category is social media exposure. The power of social networking is such that the number of worldwide users is expected to reach 3.02 billion monthly active social media users by 2021; around a third of Earth’s entire population. As of 2017, 81 percent of the United States population had a social networking profile.
Our eyes are peeled on our phones and devices. Television and radio are becoming the dinosaurs in an evolving industry. The business of news is clearly impacting a new medium. The medium of social media. We are influenced all day, every day by our devices. This news has become even more prone to manipulation as it is disbursed among social groups, influenced by peer pressure amongst friends, co-workers or clients.
A new type of advertising is emerging in “influencers”. These are people with a social media visibility that control the narrative of their social media façade, to gain followers, sell product and push political agendas. A micro targeting of sorts, even small social circles within a demographic can wield substantial power. Media outlets push news to specific targeted groups lead by these influencers. Now that the influencers have become the targeted audience, they have a measure of control over the news.
In addition to the news, the influencers are tasked with having to constantly bring in flashy, often scandalous content to feed their audience. Using visual imagery each post is tracked, calculated and contrived. To maintain this power, the influencer’s visible social life must match the storyline on social media. They need to be viewed as having power and with friends in power. They are constantly seeking new forms of visibility to gain control. The selfie has become a mark of distinction. And a photo has truly become worth a 1,000 likes.
The life of an influencer is one that is constantly feeding into the urge of importance. This is extremely prevalent in the life of a political candidate or an influencer whose business model involves politics and networking. Recently a story that really captures this phenomenon came across my desk. A legal immigrant comes to our country to follow the American Dream. He saw policies he disagreed with at-home. This compelled him to move to a country that was reinvigorated with a leader with a similar viewpoint. As a conservative supporter, he was introduced to an influencer that invited him to many events that captured his heart. He thought he made a great friend. In this case, it seems that in the influencer had an additional motive beyond building her following; she a physical attraction towards him. Once this feeling was not reciprocated, she took to social media to utterly disgrace him via high school tactics. He was devastated. She simply, gained importance by encouraging interaction by her audience; the formula to capture new followers and create the image of scandal.
We have given up power to those with personal and personal/political agendas. The old school rational sources of news information no longer exist. Social media has bastardized the way news is provided. News must be looked at with new eyes of clarity, taking it with a grain of salt. There is a long road to have news brought back to a place of legitimacy especially on the political front. Each state bar association mandates minimal ethics requirements to practice the law. If news was sanctioned by a governing board, those who report with a license should be considered as legitimate sources. There must be an agreed minimal requirement for information to be disseminated as real news and sanctions for those who fail to abide. Otherwise, it should be considered as fake or at least unvetted. There needs to be a standard for candid reporting and penalties by those failing to meet the requirements. It shouldn’t be led by those with personal agendas or affections.