The business of media - Activate World

The business of media

business of media

Melita Garza, Associate Professor, Journalism, Texas Christian University

Dr. Melita Garza’s areas of expertise include journalism history, diversity, businesses and economic news, English- and Spanish-language news, the media and civil rights, and literary journalism.

Selected Academic Publications and Presentations:

  • They Came to Toil: Newspaper Representations of Mexicans and Immigrants in the Great Depression, University of Texas Press (January 2018)
  • Journalism History, “Sword & Cross in San Antonio: Reviving the Spanish Conquest in Depression Era News Coverage”
  • American Journalism, “Pine Straw in an Evil Wind: A study of James Boyd, The Pilot of Southern Pines, N.C., 1941-1944
  • “Immigrants and Immigration: Reporting the New America,” in eds. Maria-Len Rios, and Earnest Perry, Cross Cultural Journalism: Communicating Strategically About Diversity
  • American Journalism. “Framing Mexicans in Great Depression Editorials: Riff-Raff to Heroes”
  • Howard Journal of Communications, “Legacy Media as Twitter Sheriff: Reframing Reaction to Sebastien De La Cruz’s Anthem Singing at the 2013 NBA Finals”
  • Journalism History. “The Mediated Jorge Washington: Father of Our Countries” (in press)
  • “Hola, America! Newsstand 2000,” in eds. Everette E. Dennis, and Edward C. Pease, The Media in Black & White
  • “The 1890 Census,” in ed. Stevenson Swanson, Chicago Days: 150 Defining Moments in the Life of a Great City

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The Business of Media

Companies advertise and, accordingly, choose what ads to run and where to run them. Statements can be made by these actions. Similarly, media companies can choose whether to run an ad or not. Woven within each is the point that media organizations are companies too. We explore the interaction between media and business and red and blue.

Join our conversation with Professor Melita Garza!

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The Business of Media

Melita Garza, Associate Professor, Journalism, Texas Christian University

Season 2, Episode 4

Jon Mertz:          00:02          Welcome to the Activate World podcast, a series on how business leaders have more power to solve societal issues than any elected official. We explore business activism, with substance and depth of thought.

Jon Mertz:          00:18         We’re very excited to have Professor Melita Garza, from Texas Christian University, with us today. She’s the author of the book, They Came to Toil: Newspaper Representations of Mexicans and Immigrants in the Great Depression. Professor Garza, it’s great to have you on Activate World. Could you give us a quick background on your experience.

Melita Garza:       00:35          Of course, thank you for having me. I am, as you mentioned, a Professor at Texas Christian University, in the department of Journalism. I have came to TCU with a 20 plus career in journalism, working primarily in business news for the Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg News, and also working as an editor for the business research publication of McKinsey Consulting. I covered a variety of companies that have struggled with reputation issues, including Enron, WorldCom. These are businesses that had huge scandals, and Anderson, the crème of the crème of the accounting firms, that ultimately was dissolved as a result of corruption.

Melita Garza:       01:19          So, I teach media literacy, business journalism, diversity in the media, and media history. So, I have a broad understanding of these issues.

Jon Mertz:          01:29          So, media and journalism play an important role in a strong Democracy, but they’re also businesses. Can they coexist well?

Melita Garza:       01:37          The short answer is that there is an inherent conflict at times, but the idea of selling what sells, and you think about the role of the newspaper as being something that … Or the news organization, I should say, not just news, but television as well, and radio, as having that mission, but at the same time it’s also a form of entertainment.

Melita Garza:       01:59          Those two things are sometimes in conflict.

Jon Mertz:          02:02          What might be some points of conversation within an organization, or business, when they’re trying to balance news, entertainment, and making money?

Melita Garza:       02:09          Just think of major sports events that we’ve had recently. People want to know the score, and all of those sorts of things, and that’s sort of part of entertainment media, but there’s a whole other story behind that, which is: How did they win? How do these elite athletes prepare for these events? How do they move through the various challenges that these games, or tournaments, present?

Melita Garza:       02:31          I think that conversations that you might have at a daily metropolitan newspaper aren’t per se and what might go on the front web page, or the front printed page, might be very different from what you might have in other organizations that might be purely dedicated to one of these topics, like purely a sports media.

Melita Garza:       02:51          I think the typical idea behind the daily metropolitan news organization, whether it’s online or on your doorstep wrapped in plastic, is that you’re going to get some kind of compendium of key things that have happened in the world, in all realms of society. Not just sports. Not just cooking, or restaurants, or what have you. So, it’s that whole salad bowl of news.

Jon Mertz:          03:16          What are your thoughts on media organizations that fall into that red and blue classification versus being more in the middle?

Melita Garza:       03:22          I think there’s a duality between a few of these organizations and certainly Fox might arguably be on one end of the spectrum, and arguably MSNBC on another. I’m not sure that that duality, that separation fairly characterizes the rest of the media. I think, in part, there’s some niche marketing going on. Right? So, who are you trying to attract? But, I think there’s another element to this, which is: What is the purpose of news? I would posit that nobody really considers Hannity, or some of the other shows, to be news. The idea being that people are not going necessarily to those programs to hear the proverbial “both sides”, which is, in itself, a false equivalence, because the inherent implication is that these would be objective programs if only they gave both sides.

Jon Mertz:          04:23          Right.

Melita Garza:       04:23          Sometimes there’s six sides, and sometimes there’s no other side. I think you have to sort of strip out what is inherently punditry, and what is trying to be a news program, or asserting itself as a news program.

Jon Mertz:          04:38          A thought comes to mind. You have some of these media channels that are more segmented than others, and that may confuse the situation. For some listeners, watchers, or readers they may not know the difference between entertainment, punditry, and real news.

Melita Garza:       04:52          Right. There’s knowing the difference, between that, and then even, aside from knowing the difference, there’s the actual problem that can’t be erased of things that are said that aren’t true. Things that are said that are, not only highly partisan, but lacking in any factual basis. Also, that repeat, often times in memes, or other forms of sloganeering, that stay with people, and people begin to think, “Oh, well, I heard that somewhere it must be true. I recall that media frame.” And at some point it becomes difficult to separate what’s true from what’s not.

Jon Mertz:          05:40          So, readers and listeners just have to be more attune to what is being said, how it’s being said, and be unafraid to dig in deeper than just one channel, right?

Melita Garza:       05:50          Well, that’s one part of it. I mean, we’ve seen the rise of increasing number of organizations like Snopes, Politifact, and others that are trying to say, “Wait a minute. This is true. This is not true and verifiable.” But, at the same time, and this goes back to the point I was making about the repetition of the memes and the framing, that if those memes and frames all confirm an idea that people already have, or that they’re inclined to want to believe, all the Politifacts in the world aren’t necessarily going to persuade them.

Melita Garza:       06:24          So, we have this whole intersection between human psychology, the way we understand messages, how they play with our background and experiences, that is really very pernicious.

Jon Mertz:          06:37          So, when we get into what to run, what not to run, how do you manage those types of decisions?

Melita Garza:       06:42          Here’s the thing: Is the news organization required to disseminate things that are clearly false? Under the old idea of “objectivity”, which is predicated on this misplaced notion that there are two sides and only if we give both sides will we then be fair. How does that serve the mission of journalism, which is to tell the truth to the people.

Jon Mertz:          07:11          Right.

Melita Garza:       07:12          This whole idea of equal time is actually in collision with the role and mission of the media to tell the truth. I guess, one thing that news organizations, particularly in this era when there is a bombardment of false stories being disseminated, is that they need to take charge of their idea of what is the mission of their business. What is the mission of their business? I think it, frankly the media have many people, actors in the media, have been criticized for swinging to the idea of, “Well, we can make money by publicizing, or promoting all of these ‘news events'”, even if they are spewing things that aren’t true.

Melita Garza:       07:58          I think there’s a media responsibility to figure out how to navigate this morass, but, certainly, the idea of the media’s obligated to disseminate things that aren’t true, it should not be the driving decision maker.

Jon Mertz:          08:14          As other non-media businesses are getting more active in social, economic and political issues, maybe they can learn something from how media businesses are going about it. Understanding what the role of their businesses, and standing up for what’s important for their employees, as well as their customers.

Melita Garza:       08:29          Right. As you alluded to, we’re just seeing more and more a demand, not only on the part of consumers, but on the part of employees across the board in many organizations, from Walmart, to Google, to Microsoft, on a host of issues, what do we stand for as a company? Why are we providing our services to support a policy that’s inhumane? As Microsoft faced in the kidnapping of the children, by the Trump Administration of the immigrant children. So, this all goes back to a relatively old idea in business, of corporate social responsibility and what should be the role of the business, no matter what the business is in society.

Melita Garza:       09:14          I would also note that Google and Microsoft are also, certainly, media businesses in many ways. Right?

Jon Mertz:          09:22          Is pulling ads a good way for businesses to keep the media in check?

Melita Garza:       09:25          Well, if you recognize that the media is a business, and you strike at the heart of that business … I mean, money talks. So, that’s certainly one way to do it. I think it’s been somewhat effective. So, I would say yes, that is one way to do it.

Jon Mertz:          09:44         Another way that businesses seemto be influencing, or expressing their voice, is through ads. Early in 2018 Heineken ran an ad that showed two people, who didn’t know they had differing views,but as they started to have a conversation, rather than falling into that redand blue divisiveness, they started to listen to each other and understand thedifferent viewpoints that each were carrying, it seemed to be an effective ad,just showing how we can find common ground through basic conversations.

Melita Garza:       10:09          Right. I think using the power of the media to show, through various forms and repetition, there’s another way to be. There’s another way to engage in civil discourse. There’s another way to operate in society. That it doesn’t have to be shouting and screaming and partisan, or negative, negatively framed, argumentation.

Jon Mertz:          10:33          From statistics I’ve read millennials, in particular, would like to see CEO’s and business leaders take more of an activist stand on social issues of importance, but on the same side, they might question what the real intent is. Is it to sell a product or is it to take a stand?

Melita Garza:       10:47          Well, I think this is clearly a question for the company and it goes back to core ideas of integrity and corporate social responsibility. If the company is going to lie about something like what they stand for, or use it in a very utilitarian way that doesn’t represent what they’re really about, this inevitably won’t succeed for very long. It may succeed in the short term.

Melita Garza:       11:15          I think, again, not to harp too much on this concept of the role of the firm, but what is the business, what does it need to be a business? The typical U.S. idea of the business is that, historically, the business is all about creating money for shareholders and nothing else matters. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing to the environment. It doesn’t what impact we’re having on the community. It doesn’t matter what impact we might be having on the national psyche by promoting certain people or policies. You know, maybe if you’re business is creating a lethal pesticide that turns out to be causing a lot of problems, turning up in our oatmeal, then it may not be able to defend that business.

Jon Mertz:          12:03          Right.

Melita Garza:       12:04          But, I think other businesses can find a way to lead with integrity.

Jon Mertz:          12:10          That’s a great point, because there was a recent research paper released by the University of Chicago showing how it’s not just about maximizing shareholder value, it’s also about delivering social welfare value.

Jon Mertz:          12:22         Some companies are waking up to that through conscious capitalism, or B corporations. Hopefully that’ll begin to eliminate some of that red/blue connotation that a business might carry. They can look at a wider view of what’s best for the communities they serve, their customers, employees, and making money to support both of those.

Melita Garza:       12:39          Exactly. That’s exactly my point. I think that pretty well characterizes the issue for business.

Jon Mertz:          12:45          It seems obvious that we need to read different viewpoints to expand our perspective, but what added responsibility is there for the reader to gain a more well-rounded perspective on important issues?

Melita Garza:       12:57          If only it were a simple matter of just reading a variety of things, in the same way that if you fill your lunch plate with some green things, and some red things, and some blue things, and different colors that represent different minerals and vitamins, that it all gets consumed and you’re a lot healthier, right? Unfortunately, our processes for understanding information don’t work as automatically as our digestive processes.

Melita Garza:       13:29          So, we’re trying to digest a whole lot, let’s just say on the positive side that we do take this to heart and we start finding – and we find the time too, to consume a variety of news, and we put this through our great internal microchip processor, our brain, it doesn’t necessarily come out integrated in a way that says, “Oh yes! I’ve consumed these various viewpoints and now I see things differently”, because it still has to go through that filter, that I referred to before, that filter of past experiences, and our inclination to believe certain things, the whole idea of the confirmation bias, that the more we believe something, the more we like it, the more we like it, the more we seek out information that confirms what we think and exclude information that dispels our notion.

Melita Garza:       14:19          What I’m getting at then is this seems pretty hopeless, right? The answer is, “Well, no”, because an understanding of media literacy. Just an understanding of the way our minds work, and the way people are influenced. I think having media literacy courses early, in elementary education, wouldn’t hurt. I mean, some of these concepts are very easy to understand.

Jon Mertz:          14:47          It’s easy just to read what’s presented, while not really thinking about what’s missing in it.

Melita Garza:       14:51          Right. Well, the whole concept of what’s missing from the frame, that’s a very powerful frame. When it’s supplied to people, to groups of people, then we consider that to be this concept of symbolic annihilation, where all of a sudden … Well, let’s just take the topic of immigration, which you brought up.

Melita Garza:       15:07          So, three quarters of all immigrants in the United States, i.e., 70%, 75%, are in the country illegally, but from the diet of news coverage that we get, which follows basic news principles of deviation from the norm, we hear mainly about people who are in the country who have broken the law. Who are not in the country with the legal authorization to be in the country.

Melita Garza:       15:32          This emphasizes a certain framework of thinking about immigrants that is difficult to break away from, because we don’t really hear too much about everybody else that’s doing exactly what they’re supposed to do, and contributing wonderfully to society. Although, I have to say, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and many other business organizations have been doing good research on the role of immigrants and refugees as economic engines of our country.

Melita Garza:       16:03          So, you’re exactly correct.

Jon Mertz:          16:06          It’s that constraint of time for readers, as far as getting the whole story and taking the time to think about what’s missing.

Melita Garza:       16:13          Right. It’s a lot to ask the news consumer, and people are generally very busy. So, I think the responsibility comes back to journalism training, and also to education to develop these media literacy skills, not just with respect, obviously, to news consumption, but to advertising, and understanding how we’re being influenced.

Jon Mertz:          16:40          I wonder if media literacy classes are finding their way into MBA programs, because it seems like that’s going to become a more critical element to leading a business, taking on those issues.

Melita Garza:       16:48          That’s a great point, and I don’t have a quick answer to that. I do know that a lot of the theoretical underpinnings, that I’ve been referring to, with respect to cognition and interpretation of messages, and decision making, are taught in most very good business schools, are going to have classes about that, that says, “Hey! Here’s the way your mind traps you into thinking something, or not thinking something.”

Melita Garza:       17:16          I think that is a key part of media literacy, is understanding that.

Jon Mertz:          17:21          What do you hear from your students about the future role of media, and journalism?

Melita Garza:       17:25          Well, a fair number of them have expressed concerns, obviously, about privacy, about the extent to which things they say, that they said in their youth, might be taken and used against them. You know, captured on Twitter, and it seems that trying to impress upon students that, yes, it is a ‘free country’. We do have a great deal of latitude, particularly in the United States to say a lot of things. It is very difficult for someone to bring a libel case against you, but hey, why the heck would you want to say something nasty about somebody if you had a chance to be a positive, or uplifting. Why would you want to do that?

Melita Garza:       18:06          Just having students think a little bit differently about the way social media operates, and their relationship to it. Of course, the big one … I think a lot of these issues, though, they’re not on their radar. One exercise that I give the students is that they have to do a log of all their media usage. Every form of media, books, paper, iPhone, what have you, YouTube, over a 48-hour period. People were telling me, “Ah, I was getting writer’s cramp writing all this stuff.” Then there comes the hard part and they have to go for a 48-hour period not consuming any media, except of course only what they need to do their school work. They were appalled by how difficult it was. It was like a … They were in withdrawal.

Melita Garza:       18:59          So, I think some of these issues we need to make them aware of. That’s just the bottom line.

Jon Mertz:          19:08          As they look to the future of journalism and media business, what would they like to see change or continue to evolve?

Melita Garza:       19:14          As I’m sure you know, the majority of students, in colleges now, are women. That is also true in journalism school. Many of them are suddenly confronted with actually seeing that there aren’t that many women in decision making positions. There aren’t that many women being quoted in stories. There aren’t that many women doing front page, or the big stories. So, the issue of equality, which was, perhaps, an abstract notion to some in the past, it’s now a reality as they go out and take on internships, see how the working world operates.

Melita Garza:       19:51          So, that’s one issue. The gender issue. Also, the issue of diversity, of race, and ethnicity, and they also, I mean this is general right, but for the most part also don’t understand why so many older adults are hung up on not accepting LGBT issues, and I guess they look around and they see that a lot of the news coverage is ageist, sexist. That people of color are missing from the frame, and so they … Oh, this is something that, as you know, and as peer research, among other demographic organizations, have shown us, that the [melanos 00:20:37] are the most diverse groups, and they want to see media that reflects the world.

Jon Mertz:          20:43          What’s your best advice for that future generation, especially as it relates to media and media literacy, to try and drive some of those changes forward?

Melita Garza:       20:52          Well, not surprisingly, expand your media diet. You don’t necessarily … I mean, taking a high-quality media literacy course, would be a good thing, but there are some very good books out now, that look at and dissect some of these issues well on how not to fall into certain traps as a journalist, which is the false equivalence trap.

Melita Garza:       21:16          The idea that if we just give both sides, even if we know one is wrong, that somehow we’re doing our job. Maintaining that your goal is always to, which should always be the goal of news, is to illuminate and expand people’s understanding of the truth, and that just by regurgitating a point of view that you know is false, or that you haven’t bothered to check out … I think there’s also this idea that, “Well, if I just get two or three different opinions, then I’m done. I did my reporting.” No, I mean, it’s up to you to find out whether the people you’re putting in your story, or the positions, or ideas, or that are things that are asserted as fact, are actually true. You’re not off the hook for that. You’re not a stenographer. We’re not stenographers, that’s not our job.

Melita Garza:       22:03          Our job is not to just soak up everything that’s said in the world and throw it onto the screen, or onto the airwaves. It’s our job to sift through it and come up with, as Woodward says, “The best possible version of the truth.” That’s what we’re trying to get.

Jon Mertz:          22:19          Excellent. Great point to end on. Professor Garza, thank you so much for your time, your perspective, your insights, and for just helping build the next generation of journalism and media literacy in our society.

Melita Garza:       22:30          Oh, you’re very welcome. Thank you.

Jon Mertz:          22:37          Listeners, we’d love to hear from you.

  • How do you react when a business pulls an ad? Does it make you more attuned to the issue? Does it affect your patronage?
  • How do you think journalism can balance the role of being a reliable source of information with the need to make money?

Jon Mertz:          22:51          Send your perspective me at Jon @ That’s Jon without an H, J-O-N at Activate World dot com.

Jon Mertz:          22:59          Write it out, or record it, send it my way. We want to hear and share your thoughts.

Be sure to tell your friends and colleagues about the Activate World podcast. Encourage them to subscribe, listen, and share from their favorite podcast platform, AppleGoogleSpotifyRadioPublic, and others.

Jon Mertz:          23:14          Let us know how we’re doing by leaving reviews. Your reviews mean a lot to us.

Jon Mertz:          23:19          Join us next time as we explore free speech on campus and the pursuit of truth with Professor Keith Whittington.

Jon Mertz:          23:25          Activate World is a team endeavor. Special thanks to Kaela Waldstein and Kent Nutt. Music by Jason Goodyear.

Jon Mertz:          23:32          For Activate World, I’m Jon Mertz.