II. The Importance of Market Demands in Mass Media Production
A. The Market and Public Sphere Dichotomy
Personnel of mass media organizations face two overarching objectives in the production of mass media output. First, mass media organizations have an obligation to deliver information to the public in a thought-provoking manner that facilitates the further development of democracy. But even though mass media organizations have an obligation to the public they serve, in the United States these organizations are privately held companies. This fact creates a second, equally important role of media organizations—to earn profit for shareholders. In their book, The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest, David Croteau and William Hoynes (2001) suggest that these two directives that media companies face often compete with one another over primacy when media personnel make decisions about what news items to cover and how to cover them.
Croteau and Hoynes (2001) call these two competing dynamics the market model and the public sphere model. In the market model of mass media, the media company is conceptualized as a private company that is selling a product. Based on this understanding of the role of the mass media organization, there is no real difference between media organizations and private retail companies (such as Wal-Mart or Target); both the retail organization and the media organization are manufacturing a product that they market to the public in hopes of maximizing profit. Since in the market model the primary purpose of the media is to generate profit for owners and shareholders of the company, the media company views the audience as consumers with tastes and preferences that need to be understood and addressed. The success of the media company is determined by the amount of profit that the company generates. In this model, the media company encourages “consumers” to enjoy themselves, view ads, and buy products. Information that is potentially presented to the public by the media company is deemed to be in the interest of the public only when the information is believed to be popular among citizens. Therefore, government attempts at regulating the mass media are viewed as interference with normal market processes involving supply and demand.
In contrast, Croteau and Hoynes point out that in the public sphere model, the media company is seen as a public resource that is supposed to serve the public. The main purpose of media in the public sphere model is to promote citizenship through information, education, and social integration. In this regard, the public sphere model of media addresses audiences as citizens who should be encouraged to learn about their world in order to become actively involved. According to the public sphere model, when media companies are acting in the public’s best interest, it is because they are delivering diverse, substantive content, even when this type of content is not popular among citizens. Thus, in this model, the ultimate success of mass media organizations is not tied to profits generated for owners and shareholders, but instead is measured by whether the media organization is serving the interests of the public. In contrast to the market model, regulation of media organizations is viewed as a useful tool for protecting the public interest.