Everything’s a conspiracy all the time on the Internet, especially when it comes to why we see the stories we see on TV, why certain people get publicity and others done and why networks air the programming they air. While sometimes there are nefarious powers a-foot, more often than not is a reality of people bound by both ethics and needing to eat. And that’s the bottom line whether you’re a lowly blogger or BET. That bottom line pushes everything and dictates what’s really going on.
Here’s a look at three industries I’ve worked in, the popular perceptions of these places and the truth behind how your media sausage gets made.
THE MEDIA and ADVERTISING
What you think happens: The ad executives and their reps are in the newsrooms and everyone’s in on it. Ad revenue is how cable TV news and newspapers and news blogs get their money, right? You never see them say anything negative about an advertiser. Because they need that money and that money is causing biases in the news! Everyone’s in on it! The reporters, the anchors, the producers! You can’t trust it!
What really happens: The news division and the one who makes the money, advertising, are wholly separate and typically don’t have that much to do with each other – much to the annoyance of the revenue-making ad department. In most news divisions, upper management makes the line clear – ad sales folks are NOT to interfere with the news division, but conflicts do happen. The typical scenario?
A reporter works on a story that makes an advertiser look bad. The advertiser calls their contact in the advertising department and complains, threatening to pull the revenue that keeps them all running. The ad department then runs over to the news division to demand that the story be modified, changed or retracted all together. If it gets bad enough, management has to intervene to make a decision. Will they side with the news division and protect them from the angry ad side? Or will they side with advertising and ask the reporter to change their story? That really depends on the type of management you have.
In the cases of the places where I worked, there was one place so in love with the local oil industry they didn’t even bother writing objectively about it, while at a larger paper where I work management protected the news division from the whims of advertising, no matter HOW bad it got.
BLOGS and BEYONCE and GETTING PRESS
What you think happens: Beyoncé and her team have Beyoncé everywhere. Obviously, everyone knows that Beyonce is a style thief who copies and can’t be bothered to sing her own songs live. Plus 4, despite selling millions, was a floppity-flop-flop. The only way she could still be getting so much press is she’s paying blogs and other folks to write about her. Obviously. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY.
What really happens: Blogs wish Beyoncé was handing out cash since most blogs are cash-strapped, grindhouses where writers churn out tons of copy for what – back in the day – used to be a salary newspaper job with benefits. That gig is now a freelance “content provider” position where you get paid between $25 and $200 per story depending on what blog you write for. And health benefits? Ha. What are those?
What most blogs are desperate for are pageviews so they can grow their audiences and generate that paltry 10 cents per click ad revenue you can get from Google sometimes. Meaning, Beyoncé, an international superstar mom married to one of the most famous rap moguls in the world, is news. People read stories about Beyoncé – both as fans and as haters. There are still more Beyoncé fans than haters, so majority rules. Beyoncé stories exist on blogs because PEOPLE CLICK AND READ BEYONCE STORIES giving blogs the correct impression that PEOPLE WANT TO READ ABOUT BEYONCE. Even Beyonce’s hate-fandom is so big that it’s worth enraging them to write about her because hate clicks are still clicks.
The truth is, the most a blog will get from Beyoncé is a press release, if that. (Writer’s note: I have never received a Beyoncé press release. I always get releases for minor musical acts nobody has ever heard of and New Wave sounding acts that are big in Europe, trying to cross over.) She’s too busy courting larger media outlets and from those larger outlets, smaller ones like blogs will gobble up the news in hopes of getting some of that pageview shine Beyoncé stories generate. What’s more likely is that you’ll get lots of emails from makeup companies and people selling gadgets no one wants offering to send you “free makeup” in exchange for some pub. But no cash. No one ever sends cash.
Especially not Beyoncé.
BET and other black interest networks
What you think happens? BET loves to air ignorance. All’s on there is ignorance. Like BET Uncut and Hell Date and Tiny and Toya and all those degrading shows that are horrible. That’s why I don’t want it. I never watch it and I won’t support it! I don’t even know what channel it comes on!
What actually happens: BET Uncut has been cancelled for nearly a decade. The same for Hell Date. The same for Tiny and Toya. The reality is BET doesn’t have that much original programming, but what it does have isn’t shows like that anymore. They have a few original sitcoms, like the popular Kevin Hart-helmed “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” but mostly what’s on-air are old reruns of once-popular black sitcoms and black films. The only thing left from the early 2000s programming boom is 106 & Park, causing BET’s audience to skew very young, akin to MTV’s audience, making it mostly 12-to-24 year olds watching.
The reality is BET is in a Catch-22 position with its programming. Yes, BET probably would like to air something like VH1’s Basketball Wives, but it can’t because of you. You were so good at expressing your dislike of what you saw as “degrading” shows on a black network that BET is pretty much scared of its own programming shadow most days. But Basketball Wives is an extremely popular show in the black community that happens to air on a network that caters to black viewers, is in the same Viacom family as BET, but is not a “black” network.
BET, by virtue of its name and founding, still feels beholden to its black audience whereas VH1 could truly care less if you think Shaunie and the crew are degrading. I worked on a BET show and the issue was always about whether or not the show would get ratings and community support. You can argue whether or not BET should go a different route in its programming, whether they should take more risks or try harder, (and I definitely have opinions on all those things) but the reality is VH1 has Single Ladies and BET is afraid to air a Single Ladies style show because of you. So what should BET do?