A great business opportunity

This is most of my (slightly edited) response to one of Glenn Greenwald's angry readers who has declared that he is no longer reading the MSM, and that good journalists could make readers interested in any topic. I thought it worth sharing:

If you think that it is possible to make the public read about anything, I invite you--or for that matter, Glenn Greenwald--to go do so. There are a large number of good journalists out there. Hire them, and send them to write the stories you think everyone is deliberately undercovering. Then sell lots of papers with those stories in them. It should be a simple matter to make money doing this, since the only thing required is to have good journalists. If your thesis were true, this would be an excellent place to put all of your retirement savings.

But in fact, you'd lose everything. People wouldn't buy the paper if the headlines didn't interest them. It is hard to make people read stories in a paper they don't own.

If they did buy it, they would skip past the stories that we're supposed to force upon them. There are plenty of usability studies about how people consume media. I suggest that you go read them before blithely asserting that the media have some vast untapped power to make people read things that they don't care about.

Nor is there any previously unexploited reservoir of interest in these topics. The broadcast media have extremely good data on exactly what people watch, and when they choose to change the channel; stories like the ones that Glenn and I want to cover are the ones that make them flip the channel. Web media have very good data on what people read and how long they read it; stories like the ones that Glenn and I want written do not attract large numbers of readers.

I think it's great that you and people like you are seeking out different voices. But there is no conspiracy, not even of the cosy oligopolistic "why bother" type. Almost every journalist in Washington came here wanting to cover the kinds of things Glenn Greenwald wants written about; almost every editor here was one of those reporters, and assumed their current job hoping to break these kinds of stories. They are simply limited by the tastes of their readers.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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