Summary: Cracked Magazine, in its second, online-incarnation, was an edgy, funny, and hard hitting publication. But, then, it got bought by a media giant. What happened then is a tale of what happens when MBAs rule the newsroom.
In the wake of the recent mass school shooting, Donald Trump accused the FBI of dropping the ball by not apprehending the suspect ahead of time.
It was about as subtle a move as Trump is capable of making (ie: not very), but those sections of the press sympathetic to Trump – a man currently trying desperately to discredit it the FBI in the vain hopes of stopping the ongoing Russia investigation – took his comments and ran with them, generating a string of headlines about the FBI’s ineptitude and culpability.
In the UK, right wing multi-millionaire politician Jacob Rees-Mogg railed against the amount of government money spent on foreign aid. The week after, British charity workers were revealed to have used prostitutes in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and once again the press ran wild with the story and began investigating the foreign aid charity in question.
Did the FBI screw up in failing to act on a tip about school shooter Nicholas Cruz? Possibly. There’s a long list of people who could be blamed for failing to stop him. The news media was oddly silent about, for example, the local sheriff’s department.
Was the furore over the British aid worker scandal justified? Yes. But the workers responsible have been fired, and the events described are seven years old. The timing, close on the heels of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comments, was suspicious.
The news doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It should, in a morally just world, but it doesn’t. News companies are often owned by billionaires with private agendas, and some of the more egregious offenders are often little more than propaganda organs for the wealthy elite.
Where does this leave us in terms of independent news? Where can we get solid reporting that isn’t owned and directed by the wealthy and crooked?
Until recently, I would have said Cracked.com’s YouTube series “Some News” was a great place to start. It was funny and wore its bias on its sleeve, whilst also justifying that bias with solidly researched facts.
Unfortunately, some time around Christmas, the entire YouTube division of Cracked was shut down. The stars and writers were fired – some of them key and long-serving editorial staff – and Some News died without fanfare.
A little digging revealed that this was down to Cracked’s new corporate owners, E. W. Scripps Co.
The Scripps Company is better known for owning home shopping and gardening networks, but they acquired Cracked.com in 2016. Their stated reason for the amputation of Cracked’s video division was that the Cracked brand had been underperforming financially.
Did an evil conglomerate buy up Cracked and shut down their news arm for telling the truth?
No. It was a fun conspiracy theory, but the decision would seem to have come from new Scripps Co. CEO Adam Symson. Symson took over at Scripps in August of last year. He had previously worked as an investigative journalist (not the sort of people historically known for their opposition to journalism) and studied at UCLA – not exactly a bastion of right wing sentiment. A betting man would say that the decision to kill Cracked video and Some News really was financial.
In the broader sense, however, this was still a victory for the right wing media moguls. Did they deliberately smother Some News? Probably not, on the evidence.
What they have done, however, is help foster a culture where things are weighed only in terms of dollar value. Even the news has to turn a profit, so it becomes a stage-managed shouting match between cartoonish extremes for the sake of drawing a rubbernecking public, or else an echo chamber of ideology designed to stroke the ego of the consumer.
Note the word “consumer,” there. Most news companies don’t want the public to be informed – the public are customers. Potential sources of revenue, not thinking humans. We’re all so used to it that we barely notice anymore – that the news is not just biased, but actively being branded and sold to us instead of simply reported.
The fact that Cracked had well reported (if comedically accented) news reporting wasn’t enough to save it in a climate where there are versions of the news to suit all consumers, and where whichever version of the truth you choose to believe is treated like a bumper sticker.
Some News did great journalism, and it was shut down anyway. This is how the truth dies. Not with a bang, but with a profit report.