Cashing In – The Economic Bias of News Media

Yesterday some despicable person 1 decided it would be a wonderful idea to blow up the NAACP chapter office in Colorado Spring, Colorado. Thankfully, their homemade explosive didn’t work as it was intended. The building suffered only minor damage, and no one was hurt or killed in the incident. The story was slow to reach mass-media outlets, and even when the event did reach airwaves it didn’t receive much screen time.

This had caused the Twitterverse to have a minor uprising – alternatively claiming media outlets weren’t covering the failed bombing because the victims weren’t white, or because Americans don’t want to talk about domestic terrorism. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, the truth is actually a bit more sick than racial bias or a head in the sand.

When the failed bombing attack didn’t get much air time on Wednesday it was because there wasn’t enough carnage. No one died, the building wasn’t blown to pieces, there were no grieving parents or children to thrust in front of a camera for interview. You see, when the NAACP bombing failed to get traction on air it was because the corporate logic of the newsroom didn’t care for the set, the extras, or the props. It treated the situation as though it were made up of data points – as things. With no deaths or destruction, the business model of the newsroom knew it couldn’t keep eyeballs following the story, there simply wasn’t enough visual material to do so. If the eyeballs aren’t glued to the screen, advertisers won’t pay. If advertisers won’t pay, then no stories can be told.

That isn’t to say the NAACP bombing isn’t an important story. When an organization which is identified as speaking for a disenfranchised group is targeted, the intent is typically meant to be a warning to all people from that group. As the bomb failed, we can have every reason to assume that whoever was responsible for the first attempt will try again. If another attempt is made what will be the target? Another NAACP chapter office? An African American Church? A school? This mercifully failed bombing disturbs me because of what it could mean next. It is an important story, but that doesn’t mean it’s economically viable for our media outlets. Especially when they were confronted with a story they knew would glue eyeballs to their content, guaranteeing advertising revenue.

While the NAACP bombing was never going to get the amount of coverage the Twitterverse desires for it2, the story probably would have gotten a bit more air time had it not run smack into other events. Wednesday, in France, two gunmen decided it would be a good thing to murder a bunch of people in the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine. Eleven people died. This story had everything an event needs to draw in viewers (and advertising dollars). Death, easily identified ideological conflict, survivor stories, reports from doctors who treated the wounded, cries to defend both free speech and press. When faced that that story, and the equally important NAACP bombing story, what else could newsrooms do? The things were all in place in France in a way they simply weren’t in Colorado Springs. Had a mass news outlet tried to run with the NAACP bombing story in the face of a ratings bonanza, most of the people charge probably would have lost their jobs3.

Now, this isn’t to say that the attack in France is not an important story. It absolutely is, it’s just to describe why it got so much more air time than the story from Colorado Springs. You have to follow the money – and what it takes to make money in news.

It’s extremely disturbing, death and destruction is good for the bottom line.


  1. Or persons 
  2. I’m also in agreement that it deserves more coverage. 
  3. Please understand, I am by no means attempting to justify the decisions which have lead to the NAACP Bombing story being all but buried under the Charlie Hebdo attack. I’m attempting to describe the process, which I think is horribly broken. 

2 Comments

  1. Jamison says:

    Good thoughts, and for the most part I agree. I think it’s true of many things in life though. People who ‘almost’ do something are never the ones in the spotlight. That goes for good achievements, as well as bad ones.

    One minor correction, I believe the death toll is up to 12 now.

    1. wezlo says:

      Absolutely agree with your thought, but I think in new the “almosts” just don’t bring in the advertising cash.

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