Ezra Klein points out that in the 19th century the different newspapers were tied to and funded by political parties. The news was slanted accordingly. But then newspaper revenue switched to advertising. This led to a greater degree of objectivity–as well as blandness–since newspapers didn’t want to alienate any particular audience, the advertisers wanting to sell to everybody.
After that interesting discussion, Klein segues into a larger discussion based on this observation:
One of the most mind-bending facts of our information culture is that almost every major medium of information supports itself by advertising.
Radio? Advertisers. Magazines? Advertisers. Television? Advertisers. Google? Advertisers. Facebook? Advertisers. Twitter? Advertisers. Perhaps the only major exceptions to this rule are books, which are supported by sales, and Wikipedia, which is supported largely through donations.
From an economic standpoint, most information is simply a vehicle for advertising. We see the advertising as a distraction. But so far as the media company’s bottom line goes, the advertising is the point. Without the advertising, the information wouldn’t exist. So the history of information, in the United States at least, is the history of platforms that could support advertising.
Thus free market capitalism shapes the online world and makes it available for nothing! Of course, in exchange it gets information about us, so as to make marketing to us more effective.
Do you see anything nefarious or potentially nefarious in this?