Media disconnect in full evidence when publisher rates readers by their “value” rather than their need to be enlightened

9 October 2017 // AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Source // No Comments

Money and Journalism

One product exec at a publisher described how the publisher grouped readers into four tiers based on their value to the company. At the top of the food chain are people who pay directly. At the bottom are readers who come through social media links the publisher paid for. The exec (who asked to be anonymous because some of these decisions haven’t been made) said non-paying readers are shown in-stream ads that paying readers don’t see and that the publisher was considering cramming more ads and intrusive newsletter sign-up messages on pages seen by readers who come through paid social.

Read the full piece at Digiday

The medical or educational counterpart to what this publishing executive blithely describes about his journalistic operation would be comical if not for being so sad. Some patients get escorted into the doctor’s office through a calm, pleasant, supportive reception area. Others are forced to run a gauntlet down an ugly, crowded hallway filled with blaring speakers and flashing screens trying to sell them something before they can get their medical care.

Our business is news. It’s journalism. It’s informing and bettering people. It’s not advertising.

I don’t begrudge people who want to be in the advertising business (except perhaps those involved with robocalling). But don’t taint journalism by implying that’s what you’re about when you’re clearly about something else.

At whatever point you focus on making money off of it rather than doing it, you’re in a different business than journalism. At whatever point you talk about and treat people as commodities for advertising clients or other external interests, you’ve lost the moral high ground for what we do.

Medicine and education are in the same quandary, as essential mass-society processes like journalism. All three are specializations that a functional community requires. All three need sustainable financing. Yet the essential nature of all of them is about something more important than themselves. Medicine is about people’s lives. Education is about human potential. Journalism is about our enlightenment. 

Consider how you’d feel about a hospital that gives different patients different treatment based not on their condition but rather on what income they generate. Or about a school that gives certain students an inferior education compared to others because they are categorized as less profitable. Or about a newspaper that gives more coverage to affluent gated communities than to poorer housing projects because of their relative attractiveness to advertisers.

The fact that some hospitals and schools and publishers do that today doesn’t justify thinking it’s okay.

Being dedicated to something bigger than yourself tends to be a fundamental characteristic of all the most significant people and organizations we encounter in life. Legitimately journalistic companies should be of that sort and not treat people as a means to some other ends.

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