In the coming year, the average American will consume 15.5 hours of media every day. We’ve come quite a long way from the 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) days, and that was just 1992. In 2015, there are countless television networks, radio stations, satellite and streaming radio channels, media websites, blogs, social networks and beyond.
Think about it this way: Not only does every traditional media outlet of yesteryear have a corresponding website today, but they all have their own Facebook pages, Twitter streams, YouTube channels and more. Every singular media entity accounts for a dozen or so sources of information in our fractured consumption landscape. Now add all the blogs, new media creators and all of their respective channels!
Social media, more specifically blogging, brought about the democratization of publishing, but with it the disintegration of journalism. With more options for consumer attention, media outlets – even historically responsible ones – got into the train wreck game.
He with the biggest train wreck shall receive the greatest viewership.
Why else would traditionally ethical, thoughtful and thorough news organizations be singled out as having the worst in journalistic standards? Rolling Stone runs a deeply disturbing story of fraternity rape at the University of Virginia, but fails to even contact the alleged rapists for their version of events? Lara Logan of 60 Minutes runs one of the program’s trademark investigative pieces on Ebola and doesn’t interview a single African?
The systematic failure of normally trusted media outlets is a direct result of the explosion of information sources brought about directly by the advent of social media. While social brings with it the power to magnify previously seldom heard voices, it also puts so much pressure on the powers that be to keep eyeballs that ethics and principle are negotiable.
Why would the New York Times’s Jayson Blair plagiarize stories? He was trying to create a better train wreck. Why are Fox News’s morning anchors routinely dinged for making outlandish – sometimes libelous – claims against everyone from our President to rape victims? They’re trying to create a better train wreck. Why is CNN’s go-to reporter for big stories, Don Lemon, on camera telling a sexual assault victim there are ways to avoid oral sex and stating that Ferguson had an “obvious” smell of marijuana? He’s trying to create a better train wreck.
And if you think the national media outlets are bad, you should see the atrocities practiced by the local “journalists” of today. A client of mine recently dealt with a report published by a local media outlet claiming the client had been contacted but had not responded with a comment on a negative story. The problem? The client had not only been contacted, but offered a full statement and explanation of the issue hours before the story ran. The client’s statement was published as a follow up hours later? No. Try three days after the initial story ran. There was no admission of omission in the clarification, either. What was this local media outlet trying to create? A better train wreck.
The principle I’ve advocated for content marketers over the last couple of years is that to get the eyeballs and attention you want out of social media or digital content, you have to create Holy Smokes moments. If your content makes your audience stop and say, “Holy Smokes! That’s ________!” (Insert any desired adjective.)
Guess what? It’s the same principle the media outlets are following to keep up with the competition.
They’re creating better train wrecks.
Why? Because better train wrecks are what consumers want to see. Or at least those types of stories are the ones that get the most traffic, shares and engagement. The American consumer chooses to rubberneck more than enrich. They want to gawk rather than discern. They respond to the least common denominator. So that’s what the media will produce.
Sadly, there’s little anyone can do to curb the trend. For every intellectual in the U.S., there are probably 10 educated people. For every educated person, there are probably 100 mouth breathers. As poor as they may be, the collective common folk have incredible media influence. Not because they have buying power, but that there are simply more of them.
That’s where the media makes its biggest mistake. All they have to do to prove their worth is collect eyeballs. They don’t have to collect the right ones or even certain ones. If more people watch Fox than CNN, then Fox can sell more ad units to unintelligent brand marketers and media buying agencies going for quantity over quality.
There’s no one available to step in and tell the brands they’re not buying wisely, the media outlets they’re not selling wisely and that they are persuading their audience to think less, react more and devolve into a mindless pit of Pavlovian sadists.
Perhaps Mike Judge is the Nostradamus of our day. For I continue to fear, dear reader, that the Idiocracy is upon us.