" The control [of TV news] comes not from some centralized nefarious entity, but from the power of business interests."

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Conspiracy Theories and the News

   There's always one student in a college classroom that asserts that the content of broadcast news in the United States is directed by some secret conspiracy.

Actually, broadcast news in the United States is controlled, but not by some nefarious, centralized entity, but by far much more amorphous factors.

We'll mention the most significant.

   Broadcast news started out being a non-commercial public service of radio and TV stations.

What was and was not included in newscasts wasn't decided on the basis of what generated the highest ratings (and profits), but by the decisions of people with an understanding and background in news.

But when broadcast news became a money-making, bottom-line endeavor things changed.

This opened the door to news services that cater to the prejudges and and preferences of an audience. News (and ratings) were strongly based on what people preferred to hear.

This explains why the American grasp of what's going on in the world lags behind the broadcast audiences of other industrialized nations.

   Next, there is a kind of "group mentality" among news people and news organizations.

It's hard not to be a part of this. When I acted as a TV news director I would check my selection of stories against services like CBS (back in its news heyday), the BBC and the New York Times to see what they deemed important and not important for that day. And they checked on each other's decisions, which explains most of the "group think" problem.

Not unrelated, news directors now select stories that are easy for an audience to quickly grasp, and they tend to bypass complex stories, especially if they don't include video. It's simply a matter of not losing your audience.

This means that a starlet's "drunk and disorderly" arrest will beat out Syrian atrocities -- especially since a large percentage of the U.S. audience has no idea where Syria is.

   Next, the U.S. news media does little to challenge or present alternative views to mainstream views.

This means that U.S. audiences are in the dark about many important issues -- issues which some of the international news services regularly feature.

>>   Since TV news in the United States is centered on profits, things that work against this goal tend to be discouraged. There is no directive from on high on this; It's just understood that ratings rule and you don't bite the hand that feeds you.

   Although these things don't add up to be a secret conspiracy as some claim, they clearly shape the content of broadcast news in the United States.

-Ron Whittaker

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