While a number of theoretical perspectives in IC are relevant to my interests, I found the propaganda model particularly interesting because of my background in digital advertising. The theory, which was introduced by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent, argues that the structure of news organizations (corporate ownership and the dominant role of advertising) shapes editorial content to the extent that the news we consume is essentially propaganda for corporate interests. News organizations are disincentivized to report things that disrupt the status quo as a result of this structure. Rather than disseminating news for the public, the function of the news is to operate as a business and sell advertising space.
This is especially relevant when you look at native advertising, one of the biggest trends in digital advertising today. In this new kind of advertising, ads masquerade as editorial content – companies sponsor or create content that looks like a BuzzFeed article or New York Times feature, when in reality, companies have purchased that content to promote their products. Media outlets assert that this kind of advertising isn’t unethical because they clearly distinguish between what is paid and original content. However, most users cannot tell the difference. A tiny little label will tell the user that the content is sponsored, but otherwise the content looks just like real news.
Native advertising is a clever but repulsive extension of the propaganda model. The media isn’t merely filtering the news that we get, but they’re now trying to pass advertisements off as news.
The media plays an important role in society – the ritual view of communication tells us that newspapers are a cultural phenomenon that helps maintain society in time; news is a presentation of reality that gives life an overall tone. The sad truth is that today, the media is spreading and reinforcing the interests of corporate America in increasingly effective ways.