It’s Called “The 24-Hour News Cycle” For a Reason

It’s amusing to see the media’s discomfort with the “Ann Romney is a lazy free-loader” controversy. Media organizations initially made a big deal about it, but once they realized it was ridiculous they responded with a string of shame-induced meta-articles (for example, see here & here) about how silly things get blown out of proportion.

What the media seems unwilling to accept is that the manufactured controversy wasn’t a bug of the present environment, it was a feature. This was no slip up. It was the desired output of the system media bigwigs have built and protected.

A 24-hour news cycle means that every 24 hours there needs to be something new for newspapers and cable news networks to talk about. But sometimes there isn’t anything all that interesting. So something asinine gets undeserved attention.

As a thought exercise, imagine what would happen if there was nothing “newsworthy” to report? Would the CNN anchor get on TV and say, “Nothing is happening. We’re going to go home early and go off the air, and we’ll gladly refund all advertising that was purchased for the rest of the evening”? Of course not. Producers would take whatever had the highest marginal “newsworthy-ness” and they would make a big deal out of it. Sometimes that thing is somebody loosely connected to the Obama campaign pointing out a fact about the wife of the Republican presidential nominee.

It doesn’t matter how many self-critiques and calls for industry soul-searching there are, the fake controversies will keep coming until incentives change.

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