1.2.1 1.2.1 Tabloid journalism and economics

The German word for tabloid journalism, journaille (something that has existed since the start of journalism), is, quite appropriately, a mix of two French words: journalist and canaille (scoundrel).

It is clear that democracies can only work if it is possible to access relevant information. Otherwise, the propositions of political parties cannot be evaluated, and democratic elections could be substituted by playing dice.

People believe that the role of the news industry (the press is an industry as any other) is to provide the information needed to make rational choices between several propositions. This is why the press is called the Fourth Power, alongside the executive, legislative and judicial powers. Democracy would begin to have a meaning when transparency controls executive and legislative powers.

In this sense, democracy resembles the free market, although the pricing system of the market facilitates transparency.

If we consider the press to be an industry, the question arises of whether providing the information the public needs is an attractive business. If this is the case, we can expect the press to produce the needed information but, if not, then it will not happen.

First, it is clear that there is always someone who is not interested in seeing truly interesting information published. Thus, this type of information is often difficult to obtain, and the news industry will only bear the costs of seeking it out if people are willing to pay higher prices for it.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of information that is crying out to be published. Actors, royals, sportsmen, politicians and others, for example, like to see themselves in the newspapers and other mass media because their marketing value depends on their degree of fame. This kind of information can be obtained for free. This is the first problem.

The second problem is on the demand side. Often, information can only be evaluated if one has a good understanding of the topic. Information about the costs of constructing a bridge, to give an easy example, and whether or not these costs were reasonable or were instead the result of "bargaining" behind the scenes or bribery, requires a good knowledge of this type of construction work. To publish this sort of information would be valuable from a democratic point of view, as some people could then interpret it, but would not be interesting for the news industry. Obtaining this information is difficult, and only a few people will pay for it because only a few find it meaningful.

Another problem is that people tend to believe that they are well informed and do not need more information. However, if all mass media spreads the same kind of information, such as which royal is divorcing, which actress is pregnant and so on, then everyone knows nothing and nobody will have the feeling that something is missing.   

From an economic point of view, the result of these tendencies--namely that relevant information is difficult and expensive to obtain, and few people ask for it--is predictable. The press will spread news which can be obtained at low cost and interests a large number of people a little bit. Newspapers like the Sun ( are the logical consequence of economic tendencies.

The internet has changed this situation. There are usually only a few newspapers in one region, and ever more often there is only one. By contrast, everyone has access, for free, to several hundred newspapers on the internet, all spreading the same news.

The economic strategy of selling news which can be obtained at a low cost to a maximum of people does not work anymore. Nowadays, almost anyone can do it, and no one will pay for content or photographs if it can be accessed for free online.

However, the internet is not only a menace for the press; but it is also an opportunity as well. The most valuable aspects of the production of a newspaper are printing and distribution while the money invested in producing content are more or less inconsequential. With the internet, the costs of printing (in this case only layout) and distributing a newspaper are almost zero. Therefore, the internet media can invest more money in producing valueable content, content that people are willing to pay for. Right now, however, many newspapers that moved to the internet are still trying to do what they have always done, produce trashy content for a maximum number of people. This is something that does not work on the internet as only a few internet-based newspapers, not thousands, can live from content that is rubbish.

The internet, therefore, not only makes it possible for the news industry to change its strategy and produce relevant content for a small group (instead of trash for many), it also forces them to do so or risk disappearance.



The news industry is interested in producing low cost news for a maximum number of people.


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