Steve Jobs is famously known for saying that The media shows people what they want to see. Does this argument hold true for media today?


#1

While browsing through this tweet storm, I came across this tweet where author quotes Steve Jobs saying this in context of network TV

Author argues that if there are conspiracies, then blockchain might be helpful but otherwise most of things that we’ve as of today might just be out of natural equilibrium.

So the question - Is it fair for media houses to report ‘crap’ if they believe audience wants it?


#2

First off, thank you for bringing this quote to my attention. I had no idea Steve Jobs said this! I partially agree with Steve Jobs.

For example, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the data privacy situation with Facebook has gotten so bad. I realized that in the end, Facebook offered users something that they wanted badly (a social network to connect with friends around the world). And they did it free of charge. Instead of paying with $, users paid with their data. And users were completely okay paying with their data because Facebook was giving them what they wanted. They trusted Facebook to make them happy. To connect them with their friends/family. Over time, to get even better at giving users what they want, Facebook had to keep using that data in various ways. Then they went a little over-board and now we’re in the situation we’re in.

So in this example, an analogous question to what you’re asking is perhaps… Is Facebook (i.e. the “network”) giving users what they want, regardless of the fact that we “smart” people think it’s a conspiracy and that Facebook is out to get us? Is it Okay for Facebook to keep giving what users what, despite doing it in a shitty way?

You can plug and play different players here: Is [The government / big banks / Google] giving users what they want [i.e. social services, financial services, etc], regardless of the fact that we “smart” people think it’s a conspiracy? Is it okay for [The government / big banks / Google] to keep giving users what they want despite doing it in a shitty way?

I think at some point, regardless of what users want, large organizations have to have some ethical standards and do what’s good for humanity. Just because users want crap, doesn’t mean we have to feed them crap.

I’ll have to think about this a little more honestly. I’ll come back to this post a little later.


#3

First of all we should understand, media houses are a profit making entity - they are not NGOs. So, they not only cater to the needs of the customers (readers) but their owners too.

1. Owners -

All media houses are owned by certain individuals. So, however unbiased the media houses may try to act, they do favour their owners when the need comes.
Also, sometimes they might shift focus from a topic to something totally different as it helps in their shrewd purposes. For eg. Hillary Clinton emails, religious sentiments etc.

I had written about it sometime before -

Basically - “The press may not be successful most of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling them what to think about.”

So, in such a case, even though the readers don’t want crap, they are fed crap as it solves an inherent need of the private owners.

2. Customers -
Every source of media has a customer target in mind. You just can’t make stories/articles to benefit everyone. So, they segment customers and try to make content for them. Some very selective publications have a paywall, and target a niche. However, if you are a mass appeasing media body, you will try to target the public which responds well.

This was not the case historically, media houses did have ethics. However, after the internet, media lost its best source of income - classifieds. Its all been downstream from there. Check out this video -

So, media these days is optimising for engagement. Practically, over the years, negative news, fights, regionalism, religions seem to get the most views, hence the most shown. If you notice, the publications behind paywalls don’t report crap, as they don’t need engagement. Journalism basically needs a new business model now. We will need to either pay for news that matters, or wait for the new model to develop.

Concluding, companies do have ethics. However, they only matter if they are making money. Without that, ethics take a back-seat.


#4

fair point. However, it still leaves the core question that @RathiSaahil was getting at I think:

Why do users WANT “crap” (or dumb content) more than they WANT good content? Why is engagement higher on this “crap” or “dumb” content? Isn’t it kind of sad that humanity prefers this over good, educational, intellectual content? (hence the higher engagement on this type of content).


#5

I think this is even more true today. Given personalized algorithms in social media, people usually just see an echo of what they already believe. It’s as if the New York Times changes its articles in response to what it thinks your beliefs are.


#6

100%. Echo chambers. It’s not a good thing. People are less forgiving of alternate views in these echo chambers. They become so obsessed with their own beliefs, and unwilling to even hear out alternative beliefs.

We can do better.


#7

“The media” is generally comprised of for-profit companies that sell advertising. They are able to sell advertising depending on the consumption of their content.

Therefore, in my opinion, it is directly in a media company’s business plan to show people what they want to see. They are incentivized to show people what they want to see, far more than they are incentivized to present the “truth.”


#8

In my opinion, “crap” is very subjective. I think a lot of media (especially cable TV) is catered to appeal to the most amount of people possible, which means it will always “water down” their content to appeal to the lowest common denominator of digestible information. Fox news, the most successful cable news network measured by consumption in the world, understands this fact better than anyone.

Furthermore, the vast majority of people live incredibly challenging lives. Asking them to challenge themselves and critically think about higher quality content is an uphill battle. Many people want to turn on the TV, or get on Facbook, and consume content as a distraction of their current problems. Therefore, they are looking more for entertainment than education.


#10

the past few years, i have come to realize that the world is full of b.s. if you want something, you have to do something that you have never done. in the case of news, since they are not getting paid for classifieds (@ankit) , they have to be generating their money from other sources. most likely, they are being paid by some other companies, to write what they want them to write about.
they are getting their readers (which is what they want), and shaping peoples minds. such power they have over us!!!

human beings are drawn to the drama, which is why people love facebook, reality t.v. shows, bad relationships, etc. so much. i think most people can’t think past that either (not educated) to understand why they are being drawn to the plastic media.

i also think, this probably happens in every organization. whether it’s the church, school, work, or playground. it’s all a conspiracy to attract the most minds, and win them over.


#11

Until about the twenty years ago in the US, most of the major networks positioned news as a loss-leader. They didn’t make a profit from the news or plan to. It just brought a level of prestige and influence. But this has obviously changed in the past two decades. Now the networks and their owners expect to make money. This has had many of the adverse repercussions which are frequently enumerated – sensationalism, engagement at all costs, further dumbing down, distorted focus, etc, etc.

Some call for a return to the good ol’ days of news as a loss-leader insulated from market forces. This is unlikely in the near future. The cat’s out of the bag. Companies are not going to decide to lose money, no matter how noble the cause. Those that do will be left in the dust or struggle to scale or reach mass audiences. I think the problem is not the market per se, but rather the incentive structure. And this is what I find elegant and innovative about the TruStory approach. Instead of shaking off market forces it redirects them. It recalibrates the incentive structure to lead to better results for everyone.


#12

As an additional layer to incentives, the medium in which information is distributed also impacts the packaging of content. Buzzfeed (and clones) and their primary distribution channels (Facebook/Twitter) together accelerated the growth of clickbait content like listicles. You don’t need a newspaper boy to yell out somewhat misleading headlines on the sidewalk to draw purchases, people are already glued to their phone will be naturally drawn to what’s most entertaining. There are entire services built around writing the best headlines, thumbnails, and search meta-tags.

Theoretically under a subscription model, the content provider doesn’t have to optimize for page views, and can focus on higher-quality content that retains users and grows the audience (primarily, through word-of-mouth from content subscribers). I’m a happy paid member of a couple of subscriptions that have only improved in quality each month. YouTube is an interesting example in that their creators focus on building up their subscriber count and usually re-invest revenue into higher-quality production. But optimizing for distribution still as for creators get paid by viewcount, so still produce the clickbaity thumbnail or headline to draw the most clicks on social.

TruStory has a great incentive structure to produce (and engage with) content through critical reasoning. Next up, will be optimizing strong distribution w/o sacrificing the anti-clickbait ethos. If all goes well in the long-term, users will come directly to the app as an evidence-backed source of information.


#13

I actually would argue that it’s less a question about morality, and more a question about the business of media as it stands today.

We’re living in a really interesting time where media is undergoing a pretty drastic decentralization process - from the obvious [i.e massive shift towards remote and contractor based news reporting and away from the traditional “newsroom”] to the less obvious [aggregating news information from a wider net of sources].

If that’s the case then it’s interesting to look at the massive shift in news these days not as a function of inherent biases of a centralized system, but rather as a business and market level reaction to the growing decentralization of the industry as a whole.

For example, one might argue that Fox is becoming more outlandish/conspiratorial because they see that as the only way to win back/maintain market share from the newer/more decentralized media outlets of the world. Their biggest strength is that they are centralized, and that they are much more capable in being strategic in terms of their output.

If they see that providing lowest common denominator content is what gets them market share, then as an organization, they can pivot to do that. Decentralized platforms, by their very nature, cannot do this as there is no coherent structure to make decisions and act on them. Thus, it’s less a function of the morality of the situation - even if that’s what people want, and more an inherent byproduct of the structural differences between the two models of media.


#14

interesting.

if I understand correctly, so you’re arguing that as a centralized organization (e.g. Fox News, The Block, etc.), you have to take a stance and have some strategy for what you output (based on what brings the most market share), whereas in a decentralized setting, you hear different viewpoints from different people?

if that is what you’re arguing, I agree. I think it’s a good thing we’re moving to a more decentralized structure because if done right, it allows us to hear niche / different viewpoints and perspectives (rather than just what the largest population wants to hear/see).


#15

Precisely - market forces demand that centralized organizations play to their advantage and take a particular stance they feel works best to their core product and message. Some might feel like taking the high road of journalistic integrity works for them, while others play the fiddle they feel works best for them. And as the media climate has shifted over the Last decade, we’ve seen an acceleration of this paradigm - especially in the last two years

However, I would caution against assuming that decentralized platforms will take care of the problem. In reality, decentralized platforms at scale and maturity will likely operate similarly to the current economic climate. There will always be a finite amount of attention and eyeballs on any platform, and different actors on a platform will craft their own strategies to play the game depending on the rules of each platform. Instead of a Fox News or a cnn, it might be high reputation Jill and medium reputation bob with millions of viewers. We might end up seeing a replay of the current dynamic, only between individuals and discrete entities rather than corporations

I always like to think of YouTube as a huge example of this - decentralized creators that over time and as the platform scales, begin to converge into predictable themes as we see today. There are sensationalist/click bait channels, there are high quality channels, there are random fringe channels.


#16

yeah, you caught me there. I generally agree. You gave me food for thought. Will come back to this after some thought :slight_smile:


#17

Supposedly, even Google understands the issue and is looking to crowdsource solutions! Should be interesting to see what people come up with.


#18

Thoughts so far:

  • Media agencies work to capture market share and hence chase content that serves LCD for the base
  • Agencies could be possibly working by taking certain stance/approach that helps them get there in terms of market share
  • Incentives drive the outlook and content for such channels. There could be biases that come from strong sponsoring by customers who run ads (for e.g. on cable platforms) and might want to have a certain audience for relevant advertising
  • Channel of distribution also changes dynamics of content (?) and distribution (definitely). For e.g. something distributed via FB is very different from news being broadcast/read out. So to say, dynamics of distribution have changed from ‘get’ to ‘seek’
  • However, in above scenario as well, individuals/writers who work in decentralized environments might start to deliver what majority ‘seeks’ and hence, this might not be too different from what centralized distribution does today
    Adding my thoughts:
  • Example - Trustory has a lot of categories to post information into. However, contributors might eventually discover that readers are only flocking to discover and read about certain categories, say memes. Might seem like a similar case of Fox as mentioned by @Omar . However, this stance is not enforced, but comes naturally
  • Further, there can be several players who specialize in one of these categories and users flock to that medium for that category
  • Inter-operatability/aggregation might again come to picture (how Uber over ruled central taxi business) to make the best of what is available for the audience
  • Could this mean that the problem of chasing bad content is solved intrinsically - so in a way, it works as a migration exercise where certain set of users keep on moving to a more sensible platform (e.g. - Trustory) and over time, majority of the users are on Trustory. Hence.