Analysis of media issues, politics and current events.
Some of us can afford and choose eat $30 organically grown, pesticide and additive free olives from a Whole Foods. But day to day, most of us eat from the $1, greasy, salty fries value menu at Burger King and write off those nutritious olives as part of a healthy diet world that’s ridiculously unaffordable.
This divide with food that has made Whole Foods shoppers a separate, almost mythical race of beings to average food consumers has now come to media consumption. You see, the increasingly high cost of creating organic, nutritious, healthy media (self-produced, knowledge based, scripted, fact-based, thoughtful or insightful) is creating an economic barrier. Selective access is creating a marketplace of healthy media haves and woefully uninformed have-nots. Healthier forms of knowledge and insightful content going to those who can afford it while the poor and middle class are the ones that will increasingly suffer with less access.
In my book “Does This News Make Me Look Fat?” I argue the dynamics of media work just like food. We consume it. Like taste, we have our senses tantalized by media content. We can digest the information we consume into mind-building knowledge. Or we if consume lots of unhealthy media and become mentally obese (intellectually lazy or misinformed) we build a gelatinous pile of unsubstantiated opinion, pop trivia and entertainment in our mind. A beer belly of the mind.
Our increasing rate of mental obesity is the same reason we are increasing in physical obesity. The economic sweet spot of producing both food and media content is that it’s most convenient for media companies and consumers to make and buy crap. Excuse me, a little too far. Let’s say food-like and infotainment-like products. Truly informative content is now positioned as luxury. Prices for such luxury raised and placed behind subscription models and pay walls that prove discouraging to many. Those who can’t cross over into the pay wall may not get quality, but our like the proliferation of burger joints and $1 giantic burritos at the dollar store, our media environment ensures they get quantity. That’s because, like food, less quality media subsidized to be cheap and plentiful.
You may not know this, but most fast food and most of the processed foods at your average grocery store are subsidized by the government. Soy and a particularly key ingredient in processes foods: corn. Production subsidies for corn make it such a cheap ingredient; corn is in just about everything. Cereal, soda, forms of sweeteners, ketchup, salad dressing, cookies and chips-too many to mention (but see more here).
The cheap price of artificially low corn has another effect: it makes the cost of producing most processed foods artificially lower than organic, healthier, unprocessed foods like unsprayed apples, organic beef, etc. That disruptive price balance creates an economic incentive for food consumers to feed their family burgers, greasy fries and sugar soda at Burger King than spend two to three times that amount buying a meal at a place like Whole Foods. Even though a place like Whole Foods is the healthier choice.
For people who have to take their finances into account, this choice is clear. And rational.
And we wonder why so many people are fat.
This really isn’t much different than where media is going. The cost of content generators to produce insightful, hard news, researched factual presentations or just written programming is expensive. Faced with cost pressures, that’s why you see more reality shows on TV. And more opinion shows than news shows. They’re cheaper to make for public consumption.
But want to buy the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, HBO original shows or journals? They like other mostly organic content generators now have pay walls or subscriber-based content. An economic model that puts more and more mind-building or mind-expanding content economically out of reach of the poor and budget-minded middle class. Cord-cutting is increasing as younger viewers can’t see value in subscriber content.
And they, like the middle class, may not even feel they’re missing anything. Both have now been already raised on a diet of processed media already like opinion shows and reality shows. Like giving up apples for a Big Mac, most don’t immediately see what they are losing in the trade off. Like most people in that situations, you don’t feel like you’re losing taste, in fact, in the short term, the sweeter, saltier tantalizing nature of processed consumables usually feels better.
With the exception of White House reporters, Fox News, MSNBC or CNN are subsided by nearly ripping and reading stories from news sources. Particularly the Associated Press. Why? Because cable new companies have to “feed be beast,” fill a 24-hour cable news cycle. And like how farmers choose cheaper corn over grass to feed cows for beef production, cable news feeds it’s beast with cheaper news content.
Like corn lowers the cost of a food producer to make beef or soda, simply re-presenting content from sources like the AP instead hiring reporters to collect and fact-check news lowers the cost for cable news to produce “news.” This can further dilute the quality of that news for public consumption by using the topic as opinion fodder to fill up other news shows.
Those who feed at that part of the media food chain are likely poorly fact nourished.
The economics is stratifying our society by both bodies and our minds. A media/food ecosystem where those who are richer and looking for more news nutrition can pay. For food, that’s the costly but natural, nutritious Whole Foods. For media, that’s longer-read magazines, well-researched books and newspapers that have the funding to do investigative stories.
For everyone else. There’s Burger King. And MSNBC. And Fox News. And Real Housewives of New Jersey…and….