The Business of Selling Attention

Most news outlets are not here to bring you the news. They’re here to sell your attention to their advertisers.

The news, just like every other channel on your TV, is for-profit programming. That means they have to bring in more from sponsorships than they pay for programming. The advertisers, in turn, have to bring in more from their advertising than it costs them.

You pay for the news you watch by buying the products that advertise while you’re watching. Which means the advertisers and news outlets want you to watch as long as you can.

They don’t do that by reporting facts; they identify a target audience and tell them what they want to hear. They prioritize sensation over content; anything that holds your attention for another five minutes is valid programming. That means panels of experts shouting at each other; it means hosts talking over guests they know you won’t like; it means gratuitous shots of bombs exploding, bodies in the streets, angry protesters, and tornadoes repeated over and over again without any new information presented; it means days-old developments presented as breaking news.

It isn’t news. It’s entertainment, formulaic programming cynically presented to attract as many members of the target demographic as possible–high on sensationalism, low on information.

This is true of Fox News and CNN. It’s true of the network morning shows and the evening news. It’s true of the prime time news tabloids. It’s especially true of interview shows.

And it has done more to polarize our society than any dishonest politician.

News programming has taught us that those who don’t think like we do are irredeemably wrong. It has shown us they should be excluded, resisted, unseated. Ridiculed and humiliated.

If we are conservative, our chosen news outlets portray liberals as at best uninformed, and at worst corrupt. If we are liberal, they portray conservatives as at best uneducated bumpkins, and at worst racists and bigots. If we are poor, they tell us the rich are wicked; if rich, they tell us the poor are lazy. It is the news outlets, more than any other source, that tell us Muslims are terrorists, Christians are bigots, gays are immoral and determined to push their lifestyle on the rest of us, undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. to get free stuff without working, Democrats are socialists and Republicans are fascists.

It is as ridiculous as it sounds.

Relying on a single source for your news in our day of hyper-polarized infotainment is worse than foolish. It’s dangerous. Let’s have the courage to listen to, or read, the news we want to hear, then turn to a source that presents the opposite point of view. Let’s endeavor to understand why well-meaning, intelligent people believe things we think are ridiculous. Let’s consume a wide enough variety of news that we have to think about what’s between the points of view.

I think we’ll discover we’re not as different as we’ve been led to believe.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.