Who’s the customer?
If the business is a media company, like (just for example) The New Republic (or whoever owns them this week), the customer is advertisers. That means the product is you, dear reader, or more specifically the fifteen seconds of your attention that it takes to get a click-through. “North Korea’s threatening to nuke the West Coast? My friend’s cousin’s grandmother lives in San Diego, that’s terrible! Oooh, five foods I should never ever eat, I wonder what those are?” And in recent “news”, TNR are at least honest enough about their “prey on your fears” strategy to write shit like this:
That is, in fact, the real title. I am shitting thee negative; click on through if you don’t believe me. This is the introductory article in TNR‘s new series Threats, which they describe as an intermittent assessment of everyday risks.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention to the occasional OMGWTFBBQ washing across the bow of the internet for the past five years — or decades — you might recognize some of the article’s themes. “Artificial sweeteners cause cancer! No wait, now they’re harmless! Now they cause obesity! Somehow! My hovercraft is full of eels!” Throw in a few to-be-sure debunkings of safely historical moral panics and vague semi-literate references to epidemiological studies (my favourite, as ever), and you end up with a thousand-odd words full of sound and fury, signifying only the ominously vague conclusion that “scientists” aren’t sure that aspartame and &c. aren’t bad for you. After jacking up your cortisol and catecholamines with buzzword after terrifying buzzword — obesity! Cancer! Diabetes! — the author limp-dicks to an end with this flaccidity:
For now the rich and educated drink diet soda, figuring it helps more than it hurts, but artificial sweeteners may soon fall victim to another shift in sensibility. If that happens, it probably won’t be on account of new or better science. As far as we can tell right now, it doesn’t really matter whether you drink diet soda or not. The risks are insignificant—and so are the benefits.
Yup. “Threats”, the new assessment of shit that might maybe kill ya, ducked and weaved through an obstacle course of TERRIFYING SHIT to tell you — meh. But I bet it got you to scroll past a banner ad!
Now, some of you are grumbling about the evils of advertising, for-profit journalism, “the capitalistic system”, and all that. You’re about to hop down to the comment form to pollute my lovely blog with your earnest beliefs that if only we had a publicly-funded news media we’d be able to avoid all that grubbing about for filthy lucre and focus on the noble cause of delivering truth to the informed citizen. Well, my friends, I gotcha covered. Here’s the Public Broadcasting System delivering truth:
The “dangerous chemical” involved here is hexavalent chromium, which is indeed a nasty little fucker in sufficient concentration. But, well… it turns out that PBS is only delivering truthiness, for as Ars Technica point out they’ve neglected to discover the basic toxicological axiom that the poison is in the dose:
Looks like someone has chronically elevated levels of the journalism majors, amirite?
Follow that link to the PBS website, and you’ll find plenty of banner ads… for other PBS shows. So who’s the customer? PBS is, of course, they’re the ones advertising at you. In this case, though, your job isn’t to click on a banner ad or “take our short survey”, it’s to call your Congressshitbag and insist that, future generations and debt-service payments be damned, not one cent of the PBS budget should be cut!
Because if it weren’t for the media, who would scare you? You might actually have to go watch a Rob Zombie movie, like a peasant.