Profit Motive

I wouldn't be nearly so quick as Ezra to blame the lamentable state of television news coverage to the dread profit motive. The truth of the matter is that the cable news audience, after enjoying strong growth as Fox News broke onto the scene, is in the dolldrums. Here's the daytime viewership figures -- the period dominated by the fake events Atrios was complaining about:


Given that the country adds over two million people a year to its population, the fact that the audience seems to have stalled for years at around 1.5 million hardly suggests a wildly successful programming model. Indeed, it seems to me that in some ways the worst damage financial pressures have done to journalism is to let so many people get off the hook by using it as an excuse. It's considered sacrilege in the business to suggest that low quality might be a cause of declining circulation for newspapers or audience for network news broadcasts. Instead, we're supposed to believe that it's the reverse -- problems are all caused by cutbacks which, in turn, are caused by the audience's stubborn unwillingness to cooperate and subscribe.

I don't really buy it. CNN got its audience in the first place because a 24 hour cable news network was a good idea. Fox got its audience because it, too, had a good idea -- a cable network full of conservative political commentary. Then MSNBC and CNN seemed to both hit upon the very bad idea that the market wanted more networks full of conservative political commentary and gave us Glenn Beck, etc. There's an obvious alternative possibility.