CNN International segment on Murdoch, phone-hacking & tabloid tactics

And to make those payments? Well, you gotta make sure that nothing disturbs that projected rate of return. That means for God’s sake, don’t do anything too daring or out of the norm. Second, bring in the efficiency experts to go over the budgets with a fine-tooth comb and start looking for any way possible to cut the budget. Fire people, delay buying new equipment, shrink the costs of the actual production of the news to the point that they can squeeze a couple more percentage points of profit out of the old Daily Beast.

These macro policies mean that the journalists who actually have to produce the content that goes into these media properties are running on the razor edge of make it/don’t make it; and the news editors are having to claw with every fiber of their being in the desperate attempt to make the quarterly numbers go up even a tenth of a ratings point.

And the way to do that … is to get the biggest possible audience. How do you get a huge audience without having to spend a lot of money on time-consuming, risky and potentially business-disrupting investigative reporting?

Why, lurid tabloid-style stories, of course.

That’s why the phone-hacking scandal at the News is only the latest iteration of what is a systemic problem. By that I mean, it is not the works of a few “Bad Apples.” It is the way that the whole goddam machinery is constructed. You could put the 12 Apostles into the modern Fleet Street newsroom and within a few months, they’d be doorknocking Amy Winehouse’s parents and rooting through Elton John’s trash. Or they’d be fired in favor of people who would actually do that.

The point is that the problems with the news business bear surprising resemblance to the problems of society as a whole. We’ve tied our fate to the unfettered free-market economic forces, without really taking notice of the fact that there are a few industries, at least, that are not prepackaged Cheetos. Where diluting quality and streamlining production schedules and all the other tricks of modern corporate management may work in the short term … but in the long term are not only killing the industry, but harming … well, basically putting Western Civilization in danger of collapse. If all we have are “Twinkie” news reports from chirpy, easy-on-the-eyes blondes, and the only way for politicians to prosper is to get on TV … and the way to get on TV is to spout lunatic jackassery … then we wind up talking about destroying the basic financial security of every person in the United States because a bunch of nitwits on talk radio need to keep their numbers up for Q3. 



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