Shareholder Effect on the Media

There is an excellent article called “Downward spiral,” from SPJ’s Quill magazine. It was written by the folks at Grade the News and talks about ethical issues in journalism today and the effect thereof on quality.

One of the authors’ points, one that I made myself, is that shareholder lust for media company gold is making journalism crap. It reduces resources, increases the mindless drive for “efficiency” (wherein five shitty articles are better than one good one) and other such.

“They sold their … soul to the devil when companies went public,” they quote William Woo as saying about media executives.

On the Grade the News site, they discuss this issue further, replete with responses from some of those covered in the intial article.

In this interview with Columbia Journalism Review, Rebecca MacKinnon, formerly Beijing bureau chief for CNN discusses why she left.

Then in the mid-90s CNN and Time Warner merged. The issue of Time Warner’s share price became fairly central to management. Thus, CNN’s bottom line became much more central, and the efficiency … of the news gathering operation was also suddenly more important. [This] meant that if you couldn’t justify high ratings with a story, increasingly, they didn’t want to spend money on it. Of course, it’s hard to know in advance sometimes. And sometimes there are stories that are just damn important and your coverage decision should not be determined by ratings, if you consider your organization to be doing something other than just making money. If you do believe as a news organization you are part of a public trust and you’re trying to serve democracy and citizens of a democracy with the information they need in order to judge their country’s policies … then making newsgathering decisions about international stories based entirely on ratings is extremely irresponsible.

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