As more exaggerated, twisted, or even blatantly false stories become abundantly available on the news, this study investigates how journalism is becoming an industry motivated by profit instead of honest news reporting. In order to examine this trend in journalism, I analyze news articles and televised media as performances geared to arouse the American audience. When controversial topics regarding mainstream social issues in America take center-stage in the news, news agencies often blur the line between the facts and bias in order to create make-belief performances that will attract the most readers/viewers. These articles or forms of media typically include implicit or explicit assumptions regarding race, gender, ethnicity, culture, or some combination of these sensitive and controversial topics. Additionally, provocative headlines are frequently used to hook or "clickbait" readers or viewers. Through my research, I found that these biases in the news include prejudice and stereotypes regarding non-Western cultures, African Americans, and other minorities. Minorities are already marginalized and discriminated against within America, so this research study focuses on how these performances have only perpetuated and confirmed such stereotypes and further oppressed the minorities in our country ever since news reporting has shifted away from telling stories to performing.
In this study, my argument is that in America, it has become increasingly prevalent that mass media seeks to perform America by proliferating stereotypes deeply-embedded within American culture. Ultimately, what is at stake here is the increased bigotry in America that has shaped our perceptions of other cultures and people. News media should be working against such stereotypes instead of further amplifying them through the loudspeaker of corporate news conglomerates.
After the 20th century, American journalism transitioned into “realism” where journalists lined up the facts from most important to least important, leading to a “greater recognition of human subjectivity” (“The Lost Meaning of 'Objectivity'”). Victor Pickard, an Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication with research focusing on media policy, elaborates that the rise of digital journalism diminished revenues for hard news thus creating a profit-motive within the American journalism industry (Pickard).
As a direct consequence of the commercialization of journalism in America, journalism has shifted away from reporting factual, accurate and honest information. Instead, mass media has a greater influence on perpetuating prejudice and stereotypes commonly associated with populations that are often discriminated against in America (Asmelash). Whether events are reported by witnesses present during the event or not, the truth tends to be skewed nonetheless in order to create a more entertaining, popular, and profitable performance for the American audience. “Eyewitness history logically contained more pitfalls than any other, was more vulnerable to interest, bias, illusion, and wishful thinking” (Schlesinger). Such factors like private interest and bias within the media tarnishes the objectivity of journalism- a critical characteristic of honest news reporting. For example, clear bias was evident in the juxtaposition of the two differing portrayals of African Americans and white Americans in the news after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. However, American media has embraced such factors in their journalism to generate greater profits for themselves.
This profit motive in American journalism can be partly attributed to the consolidation of media companies, known as the “Big Six” which has left the news sector dominated by corporate oligopolies (Pickard). Media companies will often publish content that drives the most economic benefit, regardless of the message it conveys- positive or negative, honest or dishonest, biased or unbiased. Two hundred thirty-two media executives control the information diet of over 277 million Americans. In fact, the combined total revenue for the Big 6 in fiscal year 2018 was $275.9 billion (“6 Corporations”).
As the field of journalism becomes increasingly digitized and commercialized, companies are harnessing unethical advertising techniques which stigmatize certain non-Western cultures, but attract more readers/viewers. “[Clickbait] uses emotional hooks to create nearly irresistible psychological frisson for the unsuspecting user. Much of this is accomplished through enticing headlines” (Steffens). Misleading headlines and images that implicitly or explicitly allude to controversial topics regarding race, stereotypes, and prejudice in America lure readers to click on links to exaggerated or untruthful performances of stories. By harnessing the controversy of such subjects, more people come to these websites, read these articles, and believe in the false information.
These advertising techniques can influence how Americans perceive different cultures present within their own country. “Outlandish, entertaining yarns often aimed at reinforcing racial and cultural stereotypes — been more valued and sought after by editors.” For example, Stephen Glass fabricated forty-two articles for the New Republic, Rolling Stones, and other magazines by utilizing racial stereotypes that Americans are accustomed to believing: “In a way, Glass was ahead of his time. He was producing clickbait before the term existed. He was making up facts before the digital age extended that privilege to everyone” (Daum).