Saturday, February 25, 2017

Caterers On the Run

Fred Flintstone: Now listen, you, I got two big parties to book and I can always take my business elsewhere.
Caterer: Well, you can try. But I'm the only caterer in town. That's why I'm such a wise guy.
--The Flintstones

Of the many life lessons conveyed by the Flintstones, a memorable one comes in Season 5 Episode 4 when Fred books two parties, an adult one with dancing girls for his Water Buffalo lodge and a clown and favors for his daughter Pebbles' birthday party.

The caterer who takes the business is arrogant and clumsily mixes up the orders, sending the birthday party clown to the lodge and the dancing girls to Pebbles' party. When confronted with his mistake, the caterer is unapologetic. After all, he says, he's the only caterer in town.

The lesson: no competition promotes low productivity and lack of responsiveness to customer needs. It also fosters holier-than-thou hubris in those who believe they hold monopolistic positions.

For many years mainstream media outlets enjoyed a similar monopolistic position. Outlets were relatively few, particularly with the advent of radio/television and decline of traditional newspapers.

At the same time, ideologies of journalists were becoming more homogenous, leaving interpretation of events increasingly susceptible to slanted reporting, whether intentional or not. The nature of 'news' being what it is, it is difficult for consumers of news to assess the accuracy of reporting because they are not there to witness the event themselves. Journalists in such a situation become less accountable and are likely to exploit their only-caterer-in-town' position.

In competitive markets, the problem of slant should vanish over time because entrepreneurs will recognize opportunity to provide more accurate reporting for information consumers (assuming, of course, that unbiased information is actually desired). Fox News and talk radio, while certainly not unbiased in the content they provide, exemplify entrepreneurial responses to provide consumers with alternative perspectives on events compared to the entrenched media establishment.

However, it has not been until the advent of social media, and, most recently, the recent election cycle, that the media caterers have really started to lose their grip on the news markets. Thousands of alternative venues (many of which mainstream media sought to recently label as 'fake news'--an smear op that has completely blown up in the establishment's face) convey alternative perspectives of events. Slant, such as that revealed during the recent presidential campaign coverage, becomes much more apparent to information consumers.

Couple that with an entrepreneurial president who comfortably takes his message directly to the people (thus reducing effect of journalistic distortion) and has no problem calling out journalists for what he believes to be inaccurate or unfair coverage, and you have caterers on the run everywhere.

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