Three local TV stations putting trash on Facebook.

As Gay Adelmann pointed out, three local Louisville stations posted their own versions of the exact same story today.

All three of these are “news” reports about a Texas woman’s Facebook post. Yes, three-fourths of our local stations felt the need to report a story about a random woman’s social media thoughts.

But it’s not just our local stations that saw fit to share this “story.” If you type “texas woman cotton complaint” into Google, you find that dozens and dozens of local “news” stations and websites have done the same thing.

Adelmann called the story both “click bait” and “race bait,” and I think her assessment is accurate. All you have to do is briefly skim the comment sewers on any of these sites to see that the articles are deliberate attempts to provoke a certain demographic that is highly likely to watch local TV news — older, less educated conservatives.

So what does this incident tell us about local TV news outlets and their behavior on social media?

  1. Their performance on social media has nothing to do with newsworthiness and everything to do with clicks, shares, likes, interactions, and so forth. (Another perfect case study for this: WLKY’s awful Twitter feed.)
  2. They are more than willing to stoke racial tensions and encourage the worst types of internet commenters by posting pointless, insignificant stories like this.
  3. They are imitators, not innovators. Look how many “news” outlets posted this story on their websites. They saw it go viral for other organizations and they wanted some of those eyeballs.

I should add that this doesn’t just happen with non-news stories that appeal to conservatives — it also happens with liberals. For just one example, take a look at this On the Media report about liberals’ susceptibility to Russia conspiracy theories.

If you encounter stories like these on social media, you should do the following:

  1. Fact-check the story. Was the story told on multiple news outlets? Was it confirmed by outlets that are ideologically different from (or even opposed to) the original source? Was it confirmed by multiple name-brand, known-quantity outlets, or by a bunch of websites you’ve never heard of?
  2. Let’s say you’ve fact-checked it and it turns out to be true. Then ask yourself: Why are the news outlets publishing this story? Is it truly newsworthy? Will it have any actual impact on your life? Or is it just reinforcing your own beliefs about the world?
  3. So the story may be true, but it’s not really newsworthy. Now what? It’s easy: Don’t share this crap. Don’t click like, or share, or retweet, or whatever. If possible, hide it in your feed. Not only are you doing yourself a favor, you’re doing the rest of us a favor too — because social media companies use your participation to justify inserting that story into everybody else’s feed. If you don’t participate, that works against those types of stories. So don’t indulge. Move on.

Consolidation and conglomeration

Directly related to our recent discussions in Journalism 1 about consolidation/conglomeration and its impact on the news media:

Media Consolidation Infographic

Source: Frugal Dad.

To this I would add that here in Louisville, Clear Channel Radio runs seven different stations. Main Line Broadcasting runs five radio stations. WHAS-TV is owned by Belo; WLKY is owned by Hearst; WAVE is owned by Raycom; and both WDRB and WMYO are owned by Block Communications — which has an agreement to share programming with WBKI. None of the corporate parents are headquartered in Louisville.

For an example of how consolidation/conglomeration can lead to both better efficiency (and higher profitability) as well as decrease diversity, just take a look at these websites with identical format & design for different newspapers all owned by Gannett:

Did you know that DealChicken is a Gannett company? That explains why the CJ (online and print) has DealChicken ads everywhere. And did you know that Gannett is a partner in the MetroMix project, which runs lifestyle websites targeted towards the 21-to-34-year-old demographic in dozens of cities? That’s why you suddenly find yourself on MetroMix when searching the CJ site for concert listings or movie schedules.

Even LEO is no longer locally owned. It’s part of a national company called SouthComm which owns more than a dozen free weeklies, although you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of the chain imposing anything on LEO. The websites for SouthComm’s various properties all have their own design & format (unlike Gannett’s), and their obsessively local focus probably keeps management from imposing any top-down marketing schemes.

Obviously it’s not possible to generalize about all corporate-owned media outlets. Without working at each one and observing the flow of leadership firsthand, it’s impossible to say if the owners are making content decisions or leaning on reporters who cross the corporate line. But it is safe to say that the primary concern for each of these organizations is and always will be the bottom line; the old Bingham “reputation for placing principle before profit” is long dead.