Do not look to the government for a balanced fourth estate

In the free market of news, news tends to gravitate to bad news. There is nothing inherently evil about that. People just like bad news better than good news.

Every now and again, somebody will start a news outlet that focuses on good news, and every time these initiatives peter out quietly after the money runs out. People just aren’t as interested in good news.

This non-evil phenomenon has an evil side effect, in that people seem to feel less safe in a world dominated by bad news. I am old enough to remember a time when the world seemed to be smaller: national news in the papers and on TV was only limited to major bad things. Nowadays it seems that every time somebody stubs a toe, there are specialized shows to highlight the dangers one’s toes face in modern society.

So when it comes to news, the market fails us. There are several ways to combat market failure, one of them being government intervention. You might consider a public sense of safety to be a public good, so government intervention would be particularly apt here.

Unfortunately, governments are run by politicians, and a bad news environment is advantageous to politicians. They are after all selected on how well they can sell a perceived combating of the ills of society. Politics therefore tends to gravitate to a state of continuously feeding a general sense of dissatisfaction and of lack of safety. You can only sell vacuum cleaners if there is something to vacuum.

In other words, the market for news cannot be fixed by the party most suited for doing so, because fixing the market runs completely counter to that party’s interests. Also the news industry cannot fix itself.

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