The impact of fake news is already mitigated by the users’ growing immunity and also by the growing noise that diminishes fake news’ impact. On the other hand, polarization has no restrictions, only stimuli, both on social media and in the news media. DHS Standing Up Disinformation Governance Board might hit the wrong target.
The excerpt from Andrey Mir’s Postjournalism and the death of newspapers. The media after Trump: manufacturing anger and polarization.
The media is a specific sort of business that is able to induce demand for its product by supplying it. To succeed in this, the media modify their audiences to better fit a current business model.
Different business models have had different impacts on the audiences.
1) The media that focused on news retail made the audience buy news.
2) The media that profited from advertising made the audience buy advertised goods.
3) The media that have lost all the above models and started soliciting subscription as donation are struggling to make the audience donate.
The media are a sort of self-contained entity, whose business product became looped into a reproduction of the conditions of its reproduction. The residues of the public sphere are locked in a bubble comprised of the donating audience, the political elites and the mass media mediating them. Competing in the narrowing business niche of news validation and subscription solicited as support for a cause, the media are forced to amplify their promotion of a cause, which is increasingly a political cause.
Meanwhile, the majority of political activities have transferred to other media carriers. Old media try to contribute by competing with new media’s intensities’ signaling and polarization, but they no longer control political messaging and agenda-setting. Their broadcasting of the principles of agenda-setting tends to serve as an additional amplifier of polarization. As a result, the core business models of both new and old media effectively incite an extremes’ race.
This effect of new and old media is neither instrumental nor politically managed; it is purely environmental. The effect is caused by the profit-seeking in new media and the desperate struggle for survival in old media. The media environment is set up for better performance, but the better performance of this combination of media, old and new, with their current business models, has brought uncontrolled side effects: polarization and societal disintegration.
Amid shrinking earnings, the newsroom autonomy that normally would have helped the news media withstand the negative pressure of the business model does not protect news organizations from sliding into postjournalism.
Postjournalism is journalism that is economically forced to take a political side and produce polarization and anger in order to trigger the audience’s loyalty and donations in the form of subscription. Seeking social issues that are able to incite anger in the audience, the mass media amplify and sometimes make up those issues, thereby increasing polarization for the next round of selling the cause for better audience support and donscription.
The polarization loop is positively reinforced by donations and also by flak, the guiding feedback of the audience, which, under this business model, is garnering more power over newsrooms’ decisions in choosing topics and authors.
It can be predicted, though, that the spiral of agitation in the media may reach a critical level, after which the donating audience will cease to be triggered by whatever the media can offer. The audience’s eventual deafness to the media calling for donations may become the natural limit for this business model (if society does not disintegrate completely before that happens). After that, either new and even more terrifying events will be needed for the donscription model to be sustainable or this last iteration of journalism will cease to exist, ending the 500-year history of journalism.
Journalism is descriptive, while postjournalism is normative; journalism navigates, while postjournalism steers. In a sense, through postjournalism, the news media are returning to the times of bourgeois revolutions, when political newspapers promoted the rights of the class that emerged with this new type of media. The difference is that the early newspapers that sold the political agenda of the bourgeoise and then workers’ movements had political goals; the goal of today’s media that are slipping into postjournalism is their economic survival. They are run by the struggle for money, not the class struggle.
There is simply no such political goal for the media to achieve, which might make them abandon the polarizing donscription business model. The model is the goal itself, as it remains the only viable model for the leading news media (all others follow in the leaders’ footsteps, succeeding much less, if at all). Or, as Marxist-revisionist Eduard Bernstein would say, “The goal is nothing; the movement is everything.”
In the final period of their history, the mass media are doomed to sow polarization. They will not return to the manufacture of consent, a sin they were accused of in their Golden Age in the late 20th century, as there are no and will be no systemic conditions for it. Any other models are not sustainable. All attempts to support independent journalism through philanthropy initiatives will have a minor and temporary effect. The structural business conditions for independent journalism disappeared after news and ads migrated to the internet.
As newspapers have always been the base of journalism, they have suffered from the transition to postjournalism the most. They have been the main discursive platform for the public sphere. Their texts fit politics the best in terms of length, genre and ‘enunciation modalities’. But newspapers happened to be the most susceptible to the donscription model: they have lost ad revenue and have been forced to switch to subscription in circumstances under which the news is not a commodity anymore; therefore, readers’ money must be solicited for a different reason.
News validation and promoting political causes happened to be the last commodified newspapers’ value instead of news retail. Thus, newspapers were forced to drift towards soliciting subscription as donation. They started forming discourses and attitudes that fit this model. Radio and TV have joined the trend, partly to seek converted forms of donscription (cable subscription, membership, donations, foundation funding, etc.), and partly because postjournalism, with its capacity for igniting anger, appeared to be effective at attracting the viewers’ time and loyalty, which, on TV, still can be monetized through residual advertising revenue. As a result, the entire mass media ecosystem is increasingly growing contaminated by postjournalism.
Being engrossed in the same agitation they offer their audience, media professionals are too busy to reflect upon these structural changes in the media environment. Terrified by the messages they convey, they overlook the message the medium itself has become. The figure has overshadowed the ground. This is explainable: the worrisome decline in the business model, the annoying growth of social media and astonishing political events readily divert attention away from much less salient but nevertheless much more fundamental consequences of the systemic shift from ad revenue to reader revenue.
Meanwhile, this is a shift of a century scale: the last time an event of comparable magnitude happened was in the first half of the 20th century, when the media industry gradually turned away from reader revenue to ad revenue. Moreover, because that turn coincided with the rise of movies, radio and TV, it was not even noticed as an independent business process. The mid-20th century’s shift in the media was rather reflected upon in terms of its cultural influence (Adorno and Horkheimer’s culture industries, McLuhan’s global village, Postman’s amusement-to-death, etc.). And that shift lasted about 50 years, having shaped the economy of the media by the 1960s.
So, not only have today’s media professionals been distracted by new media technologies and political events, none of them have ever dealt with a structural shift of such magnitude. The prevalent consensus still holds that the media sell the audience to corporations for ad revenue. In fact, however, the media increasingly sell imaginary Smythe’s audience to Lippmann’s phantom public for donation, a business model that is completely reshaping the principles of agenda-setting.
Thus, behind the polarizing effect of postjournalism, there is a systemic economic factor, and nothing can change, reverse or overturn it.
There are two parallel and intertwining processes defining the conditions of agenda-setting. First, journalism is mutating into postjournalism, and the largest news media orgs are turning into the crowdfunded ‘Ministries of post-truth’. Second, old media in general are becoming a part of the digital media environment dominated by social media with their own intrinsic polarization bias. As a result, old and new media are conjointly and interdependently contributing to polarization. The mechanisms and motives, however, are different. Social media polarization is a side effect of better user engagement for better ad targeting. Old media polarize the audience for better soliciting of support. But both produce polarization because of the very design of their business models.
Fake news is not the principal problem in this new media environment. The impact of fake news is already mitigated by the users’ growing immunity and also by the growing noise that diminishes the potency of fake news’ impact. The critical issue of the new media environment is polarization. It is systemic and profound; no ecosystem factor is seen on the horizon that might limit or counteract the polarizing effect of new and old media. Even the ongoing decline of old media will not solve the problem, as they will remain the discursive platform for the public sphere for another 5–10 years. This is sufficiently long enough to cause significant damage in the area where the affective and agenda-setting polarization of social media gets articulated and transferred into political discourses that shape the public sphere, politics, policies and electoral outcomes.
 Johnson, Bridget. (2022, April 27). “DHS Standing Up Disinformation Governance Board Led by Information Warfare Expert.” Home Security Today. https://www.hstoday.us/federal-pages/dhs/dhs-standing-up-disinformation-governance-board-led-by-information-warfare-expert/