What is the economics of the news?

I didn’t intend to, but I’ve helped pioneer a media system designed to trick, cajole, and steal every second of the most precious resource in the world—people’s time.

Every decision a publisher makes is ruled by one dictum: traffic by any means.

Influence is ultimately the goal of most blogs and blog publishers, because that influence can be sold to a larger media company. But, as Arrington and Denton show, influence can also be abused for profit through strategic investments—be it in the companies they write about or where they decide to send monetizeable traffic.

The media is in the evil position of needing to go negative and play tricks with your psyche in order to drive you to share their material online.

They push your buttons so you’ll press theirs. Things must be negative but not too negative. Hopelessness, despair—these drive us to do nothing. Pity, empathy—those drive us to do something, like get up from our computers to act. But anger, fear, excitement, or laughter—these drive us to spread. They drive us to do something that makes us feel as if we are doing something, when in reality we are only contributing to what is probably a superficial and utterly meaningless conversation. Online games and apps operate on the same principles and exploit the same impulses: be consuming without frustrating, manipulative without revealing the strings.

So goes the art of the online publisher: To string the customer along as long as possible, to deliberately not be helpful, is to turn simple readers into pageview-generating machines. Publishers know they have to make each new headline even more irresistible than the last, the next article even more inflammatory or less practical to keep getting clicks. It’s a vicious cycle in which, by screwing the reader and getting screwed by me, they must screw the reader harder next time to top what they did before.

With limited resources and the constraints of a tight medium, there are only a handful of options: sensationalism, extremism, sex, scandal, hatred. The media manipulator knows that bloggers know that these things sell—so that’s what we sell them.

Our news is what rises, and what rises is what spreads, and what spreads is what makes us angry or makes us laugh. Our media diet is quickly transformed into junk food, fake stories engineered by people like me to be consumed and passed around.

The world is boring, but the news is exciting. It’s a paradox of modern life. Journalists and bloggers are not magicians, but if you consider the material they’ve got to work with and the final product they crank out day in and day out, you must give them some credit. Shit becomes sugar.

“Getting it right is expensive, getting it first is cheap.” And by extension, since it doesn’t cost him anything to be wrong, he presumably doesn’t bother trying to avoid it. It’s not just less costly; it makes more money, because every time a blog has to correct itself, it gets another post out of it—more pageviews.

The pressure to “get something up” is inherently at odds with the desire to “get things right.”

In this model, the audience is viewed as nothing more than a dumb mob to be manipulated and used to create pageviews.

As deadlines get tighter and news staffs get smaller, fake events are exactly what bloggers need. More important, because they are clean, clear, and not constrained by the limits of what happens naturally, pseudo-events are typically much more interesting to publishers than real events.

Was there ever unmanipulated reality ever in the news? Would be not selling much......

Blogs have no choice but to turn the world against itself for a few more pageviews, turning you against the world, so you’ll read them. They produce a web of mis-, dis-, and un-information so complete that few people—even the system’s purveyors—are able to tell fact from fiction, rumor from reality.

--Ryan Holiday