Can you imagine using a product – a vape pen, a type of coffee, a vitamin supplement, a banana – that told you what to think?
You place it into your mouth, swallow it with a glass of water, suck it into your lungs, and, wait for it, it changes your mind into a very specific state. It gives you opinions to cherish and thoughts to re-think throughout your day.
Can you imagine purchasing a hat, t-shirt, or jeans that could implant thoughts directly into your blood stream and up into your brain? People would pay millions for products like these, right? It would be utterly magical, something out of a Willy Wonka film. Chewing gum that could take you on a journey.
The problem is that none of this is fantasy. We already have this product and this usage pattern. We’ve got the delivery system and the habit already formed.
Think of the news – the sites you read, the videos you watch, the podcasts your listen to as one giant vape pen that places ideas into your head, often whether you want them or not.
That’s what the news is. It’s a product. But how do we know that? Let’s break it down.
- It’s sold for money: Every fall, advertisers line up to buy air time on this product. The news sells 10 minutes of every half hour it airs to advertisers whose sole purpose is to change your thinking in order to make it more likely you’ll purchase their product or service. . “up fronts”
- People create it: Journalists, producers, directors, commentators, photographers and editors are the manufacturers of the news. They adhere to time-honored, time-tested methods for placing stories in front of viewers, readers and listeners that captivate their attention. The news is crafted from both reality and from the imaginations of its producers.
- It has customers: People purchase news via their cable bill, their internet connection charges, their phone plans, their podcast subscriptions, and their hardware purchases. Every iPhone comes with news built in. When you purchase devices, subscriptions and actual delivery mechanisms like books, articles, YouTube videos and podcasts, you get something specific in return. You agree to accept delivery of the product as the customer.
- It’s delivered to you whenever you want it, 24/7. The news is open all day and night like a 7-11 or PostMates.
- It’s traded. News is syndicated, sold, and bartered like any other product. News organizations and journalists covet their scoops (def. A scoop is an exclusive news story broken by a single journalist or a group of journalists working together), exclusives, source agreements, and interviewees like a commodity. They can shop their stories to other networks and publications they choose if they’re freelancers (def. freelance journalists do not work for only one publication, they are self-employed. Someone who freelances is ‘a person who works as a writer, designer, commentator, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer.’). They can kill stories if someone pays them to. They can get book deals to craft their reporting, stories and opinions then put a price on them for trade.
- It has a shelf life. Some news lasts a long time, like a hard avocado that ripens after a few days. Some goes bad quickly like a banana that was spotty when you bought it. Some gets placed in the freezer to be used later. Some news like the Kennedy assassination has an unlimited shelf life. (Def: evergreen content is not time-sensitive. It does not rely on current events; thus, an evergreen story can be prepared, then mothballed until it is needed to fill time on a slower news day or on a holiday when fewer journalists are on duty. Derived from evergreen tree.
And, what does this product deliver in terms of features, advantages and benefits?
- Comfort and certainty: Sometimes the news tells you things that re-affirm things you already know and believe. It makes you comfortable with what you already think and feel. Knowing that orange man is bad, and finding more evidence of it, makes you think that you know something for sure. That’s comfortable. Knowing what you already know delivers a certain degree of security. The advantage? The world fits your view, and you gain the comfort of knowing a reality you’ve already purchased. What’s the benefit to you? You feel good knowing that all is right in your mind. The world fits a form that’s real to you. You can go about your business, knowing that you’re not crazy. You agree with your friends and associates. You’re comfortable with the ‘way things are.’
- Doubt and agitation: The mind loves doubt, conspiracy, and patterns that disrupt your view of reality. Doubts are exciting. What if the world really is flat? What if the murderer is innocent? What if coffee is good for you one day and bad for you another? What if carbs are a super-food but they’re killing you? Doubt addles the mind. It keeps things interesting. It keeps you on your toes and coming back for more because the stories keep changing. The science is unsettled. What you thought you knew could be wrong. What your friends think could be wrong. What you suspected could be right.
- Outrage: What’s more satisfying than thoughts that touch your emotions deeply? The news is often crafted to elicit specific emotional responses, like fear, anger, pity and disgust.
- Insight: News offers you facts that you may not already know.
- Novelty: When something is new, interesting and unique, it’s novel. Newscasts often feature stories that are light, uplifting, brief and fun for their audiences. Beware, however. When you see a “novelty” story, it’s often a native advertisement that was purchased by an advertiser and features as a real news story.
- Humor: Political cartoons and standard cartoons were once heavily featured in newspapers. Today’s equivalent is the meme.