Wilkins and Christians (2009) argued that the entire structure of media companies begs for businesses to influence the editorial content. The biggest media companies are often owned by corporations who, naturally, have their own business interests. This interest may not necessarily be a priority on the day to day operation but it is in the general agenda. The only way this is really going to change is by restructuring the economic system or by institutional changes that would naturally detach the control that businesses have over the editorial content (Bagdikian, 2004; Baker, 2007; Ramey, 2007).
These proposals include actual government legislation that will apply the same democatraic principle that would ensure that the democratic rights that the government so protects the people against itself is also applied to media companies. Early governments argued that the mere act of allowing different businesses and anyone who desires so to put up their own media company is already the core of ensuring the vibrancy of democracy. Baker (2007) asserts that media ownership is, in fact, not a factor that can easily be deduced. The act of publishing a magazine is a right afforded to everyone, regardless of social stature. Limiting the right of those who have more money is a violation of their own right.
There may be a greater chance in self-regulation, another principle inherent in a democracy. The media owners themselves should learn how to regulate their own interest. Many businesses are after the biggest profits their business acumen would allow them. However, a media company has an inherent social responsibility and requires a different business principle from a social and moral perspective. There might be a need to apply certain exemptions when it comes to principles of promotion and review of profitability. Croteu & Hoynes (2006) proposed that a social sphere be applied in the media business model. This model employs the prioritization of maximization over reasonableness and also the creation of incentives towards actions that promote democracy rather than profitability. These policies and rules must be institutionalized to serve as the perpetual beacon of media organization that their existence is grounded on the social obligations and that their primary shareholder is the public.
This set up will also lift the constant pressure to reporters to check whether their story will adversely affect the image or sales of the company that owns the newspaper they work for (Turow, 1994). Such a struggle is a constant concern on academes. Students hoping to enter the news industry constantly questions to what extent are their journalistic principles compromised under the business owners or whether having creative autonomy is even possible (Hemondhalgh, 2002).
There is a need to be vigilant in pursuing this issue. For so long, the nature freedom afforded to everyone has also become the very reason businesses are able to exert control and influence over media owners. Academes and young journalists must keep tab on new media owners and must keep on a constant check on that affects the contents that are coming out.
The Declining Sales Equals Greater Pressure to Earn
There is a holy creed that is upheld by the media, that is to provide the public with as much information as their space and time will allow them to as many people as possible. The very nature of profiting from advertiser and not relying on sales, in fact, is grounded on the press’ commitment to serve the public (Reinstein and Synder, 2004; Del Guercio and Tkac, 2003). However, along with their reliance on advertising is the invisible but very defined walls that protect the editorial body, making it safe from any threat or influences. Editors and reporters claim that it is sacred and impossible to break down (Underwood 1998, p. 24).
However, there are also those who claim this hyping and emphasis of the impenetrability of these walls are nothing but a marketing strategy to make the people believe that the paper’s integrity is pure and unquestionable. This integrity is what attracts readers and, subsequently, the advertisers (Fleetwood 1999, p. 40). Journalists are open about the attempts to influence editors and field reporters in changing their story to favour certain companies or certain politicians (Dunn et al. 1990, pp. 91-92).
This pressure is becoming stronger as newspaper subscription declines. In 2010, more than 150 newspaper shut down which resulted to more than 10,000 people losing their jobs (CITE SOURCE). This threat adds further pressure for the newspaper to try and please advertisers every way possible and that includes not printing stories that could cause the company problem (Soonate & Bergen 2007, p. 111). Soley & Craig (1992, p. 7) conducted a study on how much pressure advertisers put on the editors of newspapers they determine that more than 90 percent have directly experienced the pressure while more than 50 percent got the pressure from someone within the organization.
Apparently, this is a not a new phenomenon. Back in the 1980s, a controversial study was conducted where a close relationship, almost a conspiracy, between the editorial board of a newspaper and advertiser (Bagdikian 1983, pp. 151-152). This partnership results to contents that favour not just the brands of advertisers but also forms an idea of the world that is agreeable to the advertisers. In this regard, the media transforms to a business guardian rather than a social guardian of truth.
To attract more advertisers, newspapers are said to change the tone of their headlines to make it lighter and more positive than what the story really is. There is also the long standing practice of writing advertorials which often confuses the audience because it is not even labelled as such. Worse, editors are being trained to instinctively refuse to print stories that are too negative or would paint certain companies negatively (Steinem 1990, p. 20). The practice of changing the tone of stories and tricking the readers into perceiving certain contents as objective news are clear demonstration of how much influence advertisers have over the editors and the editorial content of the newspapers (Risser 2000). Hence, the very strategy that newspapers are using to ensure that news get to more people is also the same strategy that put too much power on advertisers over the media companies (Kleppner et al. 1986, p. 613).
To cover this situation, mass media resort to publishing about stories that averagely critical and blows it out of proportion to make it appear larger than it is supposed to just create an illusion that they are fearless in putting a spotlight on critical issues (Kleppner et al. 1986, p. 613). Another study by Howland (1989) and Soley and Craigh (1992) conducted a more intimate study of the matter by going directly to reporters and correspondents to get a first-hand account of the pressure is applied to the editorial board. These writers and correspondents attested that there is a conscious effort to get this battle out of the public eye (Hays & Reisner 1990; Price 2003) and are considered an “administrative issue” rather than an editorial one (Cranberg 1993, p. 13). This makes it harder for anyone to give an accurate account of what happens. Nothing is documented, requests are hinted, rather than communicated and always verbally, rather than in a written way.
This is not to say there haven’t been a time when the pressure didn’t become public (Christensen 2005). One of the most public demonstrations of this pressure was the case of Jeffrey Wigand. Wigand was an executive of the Tobacco company, Lorillard. After being fired, Wigand went public about the alleged practice of tobacco companies’ in increasing the nicotine content of cigarettes which makes it more addictive. Laurence Tisch owned both Lorillard Tobacco and CBS, the company the airs 60 Minutes. After being threatened, the legal department of CBS told the producer and host to alter the material. In this case, the show caved and edited the material but eventually aired it after a journalist printed a story on how the company owners are pressuring and threatening them. This happens to many newspapers (Soley & Craig 1992, p. 7; Soonate & Bergen 2007, p. 112).
The advertisers now have additional leverage because of the internet is becoming a real competition. Ads are more affordable online and data is measurable. These two factors are attracting many businesses to shift their budgets from print to digital. Advertisers are now using the digital media as leverage in negotiating for more friendly news materials in exchange for their money. The biggest advertisers are usually automobile companies and real estate companies and they are also the companies that exert so much pressure on newspapers to print articles that will make their company and products look good (Lesly 1991; Singer 1991; Williams 1992).
The size of the media company is also not an object. In fact, even the biggest companies are getting these pressures. The Los Angeles Times infamously forged an agreement with the Staples Center for in 1999 to split an advertising deal that costs $2 million. The LA Times dedicated an entire Sunday edition for the client (McLellan 2002). However, the editorial body claimed that they were not informed of the money or of the deal. They only knew of it when other newspaper published a story exposing the dirty deal (Smith 1999).
It is natural for the society to continue to question the extent of the advertiser’s influence on editorial contents (Hyman, Tansey, and Clark 1994). Media is a business. Businessmen need to earn for the sheer purpose of keeping itself alive. There is also the natural predilection for revenue and since the very source of the revenue is often the subject of the criticism, there will always be the need to assess the media ecology from an ethical standpoint especially now when the bargaining power of advertisers are strengthening. The invisible and impenetrable wall that protects the editorial board is slowly being penetrated because of the availability of technology, it is critical the society be able to clearly understand were sales begin and where objectivity ends.
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