The Monopoly On Your Mind, Part 3: Advertisers’ Invisible Strings, by Rebecca Strong

It may not seem much a revelation that advertisers have an influence on the media with whom they advertise, but the story runs deeper that that. From Rebecca Strong at rebeccastrong.substack.com:

In a recent Twitter survey I conducted, nearly 90% of people rated their trust in mainstream media as either “very low” or “low.” And is it any surprise? Ever-mounting media consolidation has narrowed the perspectives the public is privy to, ownership and funding of these corporations are riddled with conflicts of interest, crucial stories keep suspiciously getting buried, and big tech companies are outright censoring and demonetizing independent outlets trying to break through the noise. The media is supposed to function as a power check — and a means of arming us with vital information for shaping the society we want to live in. It’s never been a more important industry. And it’s never been more at risk. In this series, I’ll tackle each factor threatening the media’s ability to serve our democracy — with input from journalists, media critics and professors, and other experts.

Earlier in April, I kicked off this series with a piece about the problematic history of media consolidation. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

“The media, like anything else, can be bought. Everything, it seems, has its price. Even the ‘free’ press.”

― Lance Morcan

In 2020, while writing for a popular online news platform geared toward millennials, I proposed what I thought was a timely and non-controversial story. As marijuana legalization was spreading to more and more states, lots of my peers were looking to cut back on their drinking — which had gotten out of control during the pandemic — and turning to cannabis as an anxiety-reducing replacement. So, I pitched my editor on an experiential piece: For a few weeks, I’d swap my nightly glass of wine with a popular new celeb-backed cannabis beverage and share the effects. She didn’t go for it, but not because she didn’t find the idea interesting or relevant to our audience. “Unfortunately, our advertisers won’t like it,” she said. “We just can’t do any cannabis stories, period.” Her feedback left me wondering which of our sponsors wouldn’t approve the topic due to conflicting interests. Was it oh-so-wholesome Disney? An alcohol brand that saw cannabis as a threat to business? I’ll never know. But regardless of the specifics, the experience left a sour taste in my mouth. I hadn’t realized until that moment that the advertisers had so much control over what we did and didn’t cover.

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