An internet minute in 2021

33 Media Issues in One Chart

One of the hallmarks of a democratic society is a healthy, free-flowing media ecosystem.

In the past, that media ecosystem encompassed various mass media, from newspapers to cable television networks. Today, the internet and social media platforms have greatly expanded the scope and reach of communication within society.

Naturally, journalism plays a key role within that ecosystem. Quality journalism and the unprecedented transparency of social media keep power structures in check – and sometimes these forces can drive real societal change. Reporters bring us news from the front lines of conflict and reveal hard truths through investigative journalism.

That said, these positive effects are sometimes overshadowed by harmful practices and negative externalities in the media ecosystem.

The image above is an attempt to catalog issues within the media ecosystem as a basis for discussion. Many of the problems are easy to understand once identified. In some cases, however, there is a trade-off between these issues that is worth delving into. Below are a few of those examples.

Editor’s Note: Skip to the end of this article for a full list of resources. If we missed an issue, let us know!

Explicit Bias vs Implicit Bias

Broadly speaking, media bias falls into two types: explicit and implicit.

Publishers with explicit biases will openly dictate the types of stories covered in their publications and control the framing of those stories. They usually have a political or ideological inclination, and these outlets will take advantage of narrative fallacies or false balance in an effort to push through their own agenda.

Inadvertent filtering or skewing of information is referred to as: implicit bias, and this can manifest itself in a few different ways. For example, a publication may turn a blind eye to a topic or issue because it would put an advertiser in a bad light. These are called no flying zonesand given the financial problems of the news industry, these no-fly zones are becoming more and more treacherous territory.

Misinformation vs. Disinformation

Both terms imply that information being shared is factually incorrect. The main difference is that disinformation is unintentional and disinformation is intentionally created to mislead people.

fake news stories and concepts such as deepfakes fall into the latter category. We broke the whole piece down spectrum of fake news and how to spot it, in a previous infographic.

Simplify, simplify

Mass media and social feeds are the ultimate Darwinian scenario for ideas.

Through social media, stories are widely shared by many participants, and the most persuasive framing usually wins. More often than not, it’s the snappy, provocative messages that spread the furthest. This process removes the context of an idea, potentially distorting its meaning.

Video clips shared on social platforms are a good example of: strip context in action. An (often shocking) event occurs, which, despite the complete lack of context, causes a lot of discussion.

This inadvertently encourages viewers to stereotype the individuals in the video and put forward our own preconceived ideas to fill in the gaps.

Members of the media are also looking for spicy story angles to grab attention and prove the point they are making in an article. This can lead to Cherry picking facts and ideas. Cherry picking is especially problematic because the facts are often correct, so they make sense on the surface, but they lack important context.

Simplified models of the world make for compelling stories, such as: good against evilbut situations are often much more complex than appears at first glance.

The News Media Squeeze

It’s no secret that journalism is facing lean times. Newsrooms work with much smaller teams and budgets, and a result is: ‘churnalism’† This term refers to the practice of directly publishing news service articles and public relations releases.

Churnalism not only replaces more rigorous forms of reporting, but also acts as a means of advertising and propaganda that’s harder to distinguish from the news.

The increased sense of urgency to generate revenue also causes other problems. High-quality content is increasingly hidden behind paywalls

The end result is a two-tier system, where subscribers receive thoughtful, high-quality news and everyone else has access to superficial or sensational content. That everyone else not only people with lower incomes, but also largely young people. The average age of today’s paid news subscriber is 50, raising questions about the future of the subscription model.

For outlets dependent on advertising, desperate times have called for desperate measures. User experience has taken a backseat to ad impressions, with advertisement junk (e.g. video autoplay, popups, and prompts) that pauses the content at every turn. Meanwhile, third-party trackers in the background still monitor every digital movement, despite all the privacy opt-in prompts.

How can we solve the problems with media?

With great influence comes great responsibility. There is no easy solution to the problems that plague news and social media. But the first step is identifying these issues and talking about them.

The more media literate we become together, the better we will be at reshaping these broken systems and striving for accuracy and transparency in the channels of communication that bind society together.

Resources and further reading:

Veils of Distortion: How the News Media Distorts Our Minds by John Zada
Hate Inc. by Matt Taibbi
Production permission by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
The truth matters: a citizen’s guide to separating fact from lies and stopping fake news by Bruce Bartlett
Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare by Thomas Ridic
The Twitter Machine by Richard Seymour
After the fact by Nathan Bomey
Ten Arguments to Delete Your Social Media Accounts Now by Jaron Lanier
sucked by Roger McNamee
Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians and Hijacking the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz
Social media is broken by Sara Brown
The US media’s problems are much bigger than fake news and filter bubbles by Bharat N. Anand
What’s wrong with the news? by FAIR
Is the media doomed? by Politico
The implicit truth effect by Gordon Pennycook, Adam Bear, Evan T. Collins, David G. Rand

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