When I was growing up, there was intense competition for news dominance among the local networks. All evening long, our favorite TV shows would be interrupted by Irv Weinstein, practically shouting about a fire across town. Film at 11!
Friends in Toronto asked us whether there were any buildings at all left standing.
Today's mass media competition makes that battle look quaint. In the relentless search for clicks, profit-focused media companies are racing to the bottom as fast as they can get there.
Can we do anything about this? Should we care?
I think the answer to both questions is yes. We should care about an influential industry that creates and amplifies fear, on deadline, distracts us and festers, like a fast-growing tumor, diminishing the healthy tissue around it.
We get what we click on.
Alas, we also get what others click on. And society does a poor job of marketing productive media to itself. We're consuming more media than ever before, but I'm not sure the mass media is making us much smarter, braver or more willing to take action.
When one million committed people start engaging with a media channel, that channel gains in profit and influence. That's all it takes. The power to change what gets broadcast is in our hands, which might be a good thing. I'm sure that the junk is going to get ever worse. The question is: will people who care click often enough for the good stuff to get even better?
[Irony: a few hours after I posted this, I discovered that the house where journalist Tim Russert grew up (in South Buffalo) just burned down.]