Waterskiing cats and other red herrings

Schrodinger’s cat…it is easy enough to explain but a little harder to really understand. Essentially, there was a commonly held theory in the field of quantum mechanics that a thing can exist in all its forms until you observe it and then it has to take one of those forms. So, until you observe it, it could be anything. The act of observing it makes it what it is. Shrodinger meant to test that theory. Hm, I guess it’s a bit more complicated to explain than I thought. But you get the gist of it.

There is a new trend in media and in the reporting of news stories. It is a vicious cycle, especially if your story is not within it and it ultimately decides what is “news”.

Imagine a news web site publishes a dozen stories. One of those stories includes a video of a waterskiing cat so it is watched and read more often than the others. Readers comment on it more, they “Like” it more and they Re-Tweet it more. The message that the news providers are getting is, as consumers of their product (i.e. news), we want more cat videos.

So, that one story then generates more stories like it and so on and so forth. But what stops news agencies from only reporting on waterskiing cats? Good question.

A recent study showed that while 40% of millennial still pay for online media, a closer look at the numbers tells a much darker story. “More Millennials pay for print magazines (21 percent) and newspapers (15 percent) than digital magazines (11 percent) and newspaper media content online (10 percent).” Fewer and fewer people are paying for news, choosing instead to spend their hard-earned dollars on entertainment.

That same study indicated that “[e]ven among Millennials who pay for news, Facebook and search engines are their most common sources for obtaining news on many topics.” In other words: free.

In order to make enough money to continue to give us the news we need, news agencies have to sell us the news we want. And how do they do that? They tell us which news stories we have all been liking which in turn makes us want to see more of those kinds of stories. It’s simple: we want to be in the cool group and like what the other kids like and know what they know. By telling us what we all liked, they are driving us in a particularly direction…essentially selling us the news. They are deciding what, in fact, IS news.

Up until the point we all became focused on one story and share it, all the stories are equally newsworthy. Like Schrodinger’s cat, the act of observing it makes it what it is. And since people become less inclined to pay for something once we know we can get it for free, this trend is unlikely to change.

You may ask, so what? I like cats and waterskiing. Why shouldn’t I get more of both? The problem is that there were originally 11 other stories that got forgotten about? While we were busy watching waterskiing cat videos and the news providers were busy giving us more of the same thing, a lot of stuff happened out there that didn’t involve cats or waterskiing but was important for us to know…arguably more important than waterskiing cats, if you can believe it…but it was never to be.

Referenced news site:

https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/reports/survey-research/millennials-pay/

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