Forget Government-Run Interfaces and Focus On the Data

Let’s take Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief (for the moment) Mick Mulvaney at face value when he says it’s not the responsibility of the agency – and by extension, the government or taxpayers – to “run a Yelp for financial services.” That’s the justification he’s given for his position that a database of complaints against banks and other companies will be maintained as required by law but not be publicly accessible, as it has been for years.

I don’t necessarily agree with that stance, but for the purposes of this post I’ll assume he’s making it in good faith, actually believing the government doesn’t need to be providing such a service for reasons other than being beholden to the financial industry in some way.

That kind of resource is still a good idea, isn’t it? Yelp and other services like it certainly have problems but are more useful than not in most cases. So if the federal government doesn’t want to provide public access to that data, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the consumer public for a private company (ideally one outside the financial industry) to come in and fill the need?

At the same time Mulvaney believes public access isn’t in his job description, a new law has gone into effect requiring hospitals accepting Medicare to post their standard prices online. While those prices are likely going to be different from what patients or insurers would wind up paying, the idea is to provide some transparency into how much services cost and allow patients to be at least informed, even if circumstances mean they don’t have a lot of choices. Specifically, the report states pricing information must be machine-readable.

There’s real promise, I believe, in the idea that the kind of data collected by the CFPB should be made available publicly not necessarily in a polished user interface but as raw information that anyone can build a front end for. Provide it as a feed and let developers and researchers figure out how to slice and dice it in a way that they and the general public can use.

That kind of tool would be enormously valuable to consumers. They could view price information, read the comments that have been made regarding companies and more. All of that would allow them to make more informed decisions and force companies to compete on price, customer service and other details.

Of course that’s just why those companies don’t want that kind of database to be available. They generally lose power when the public has more information, which is why you see so instances of meddlesome media organizations being shut down or neutered by corporate owners.

Still, there’s potential in the idea. If laws were being crafted by individuals who understood the power of allowing access to raw data we could add a lot of transparency to the system.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

This Week Elsewhere – 4/27/18


How 8 Brands Assembled Their Marketing Tie-Ins With Avengers: Infinity War: All of that hype has led to the movie breaking records for Fandango advance ticket sales and an overall massive amount of buzz and anticipation. It’s also lead to a situation where a number of consumer products brands have looked to hitch their wagon to this particular Quinjet. To capitalize on the momentum afforded by such a huge movie, these companies have rolled out substantial campaigns of their own in a united push reported to add around $150 million in promotional support to the push. Let’s take a look at some of those efforts.

Cinematic Slant

Cinematic Slant is where I write about movies, including the campaign recaps I’ve been doing since 2004 along with other news and opinions.

Disobedience – Marketing Recap: While the forbidden lesbian love story has certainly been a focus of the campaign, the bigger point being sold here is one of being true to who you are and breaking free of society’s definition of “acceptable.” That’s a very timely message in 2018.

Why Is Everyone Suddenly Concerned About Steven Spielberg?: When you’re batting .900, you usually don’t have to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from. There are only two people who are going to take you out of the lineup: Yourself and Death.

Moviebill Brings Augmented Reality to Theaters With Avengers: Infinity War: Adding an augmented reality component to that experience is the aim of Moviebill. The company is working with theater chain Regal Cinemas to bring an AR experience to moviegoers tied to this week’s release of the highly-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War.

Duck Butter – Marketing Recap: The campaign is alright, though it’s almost too small to make any sort of substantive judgment on. You get the basic idea of the story and the characters but it’s a bit too…fuzzy to really get a handle on. I’m sure this will resonate well with some audiences but there’s nothing here that leads me to believe it’s going to catch on with larger groups in any way.

The Best GIFs from Each Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie Trailer: While two hours and 24 minutes of the movie’s two hour and 29 minute runtime have yet to be seen, the campaign – specifically the two trailers – have already provided us with two of my favorite moments from the 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Netflix Buying a Movie Theater or Two Would Be [chef’s kiss]: What will be interesting to watch is what the Academy’s response to this might be. It’s hard to believe the group will just accept it and admit they got played. Instead, I expect them to go full-on Andy Garcia in Ocean’s 12 and start blowing up cars. (Metaphorically, of course.) There are two possible ways the trade group might react.

2009: The Last Year Without Marvel: As hard as it is to believe now, when each year brings at least two if not three MCU movies, 2009 saw none. That’s right, none. After 2008 saw Iron Man kick things off and The Incredible Hulk start to explore the interconnectedness of the universe, things went dark until Iron Man 2 in 2010. That gap speaks to how Marvel Studios doesn’t seem to have been as sure as they make themselves out to be now about how successful this venture was going to be.

The Kids Were Never the Focus of Blocker’s Marketing: Who the girls are or aren’t crushing on is barely covered at all. We get a look at their dates only sparingly, with no background or context given. The most complex picture we get is when one of them is explaining to her date that they *are* going to have sex later that night, something he seems remarkably oblivious to.

Avengers: Infinity War – Marketing Recap: If you’re looking for my usual marketing recap on Avengers: Infinity War, this week’s biggest release, you’ll find it spread across two outlets.Even with all that there were some elements I usually include that didn’t make into either of those two pieces. So, using those as starting points, here’s the rest of what the marketing campaign looked like.

Exhibitors Reach Their WSHDT (We Should Have Done That) Moment: Moviepass, for all its faults and obvious financial issues, is trying to be a cross-platform player. The real problem the exhibition industry has is that it’s then hoarding all the data, which each company wants for itself.

Facing Increased Streaming Competition, Netflix Prioritizes Original Content…And Marketing: To get the most out of that production spending the company is also reportedly ready to engage in more – and more traditional – marketing and advertising activities to draw people’s attention to its original offerings.

As Blumhouse Gains Prominence, Remember We’ve Been Down This Road Before: Eventually Blumhouse will become just another specialty label. We’ve seen this happen with Castle Rock, Fox Searchlight and others. Even A24, which was last year’s press darling, has put out a few movies in the last couple months that don’t meet the lofty status assigned to it while releasing quirky prestige titles like The Lobster, Lady Bird and others.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

What’s Stock Photo Guy Been Up To Lately?

Stock Photo Guy has shown up in a couple recent blog posts I’ve seen, so here’s the latest scenarios I’m imagining he’s engaged in based on the content of the posts.

Help! I do not know what to write

OK, so here he’s definitely a writer, I guess. So I’m going to imagine he’s struggling with how to transition into an action-centric scene in his long-gestating novel while waiting for his lunch to be delivered to the Noodles & Co. booth he’s sitting in.

Why it’s okay to be selfish sometimes

Now he’s a neurotic young father who has escaped from home for a bit to try and get some work done on a project that’s due as soon as he walks into the office tomorrow morning. His wife is not happy with him leaving her with the infant because doesn’t she deserve to go out, too?

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Not Everyone Can Do This

I have to admit I’m more than a bit put out by frequent blog posts and stories offering ideas for people to consider if they’re looking for a new work-from-home lifestyle and additional revenue stream. Mainly because more than a few of the options put forward strike a nerve with me for one reason or another.

Those posts often suggest “Blogging,” “Freelance writing” and “Social media manager” as three ideas for those who make a few extra bucks. They’re tossed out as if any one of them is no big deal. You just need to decide to get started and the income will begin flowing. If you love writing or feel at home posting to social media, that’s all it takes.

Let’s be clear here: Yes, anyone can do these things. But it takes skill and experience to do them well.

monty python know things king

You hire a social media manager because they’ve convinced you they’re “good at social media” even though they lack any experience running a corporate content program and you’ll find yourself in trouble real quick. They’ll post something inappropriate, go too far in trying to sound “authentic,” or clearly offend the audience.

You hire a freelance writer who hasn’t put in years working on honing their writing for voice, tone and other factors that are important when it’s put in the context of a marketing program and you’re creating a lot of work for yourself. You’re going to spend a lot of time editing, if not flat-out rewriting, their work.

While the above two examples are obviously personal to me, they’re both the game I am currently playing and have been playing for the last 15 years. I’ve seen both done poorly by inexperienced, if well-meaning, people and dealt with the headaches that have resulted. The inclusion of “graphic designer” and other technical jobs is just as frustrating for the same reasons. I’ve witnessed talented designers and developers have to pick up the pieces left behind by someone who oversold their abilities.

This isn’t meant to demean those who are working hard at remote freelancing in any of these categories. I’m one of them, hustling every day for writing gigs. I enjoy my work-from-home situation. But it’s not one I undertook lightly or on a lark. It’s required a lot of hard work just in adjusting to that reality, not even counting all the years I spent building up the skills I now use to market myself.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

When Success Depends on the Network Effect

Back at the beginning of the year I mentioned I was no longer going to be either cross-posting material on Medium or publishing anything original there. Doing so, I reasoned at the time, was no longer in line with the goals I had set for my blog writing and in fact might be detracting from what I was doing here and on other owned platforms.

Part of that decision was simply it was a lot of work and I wasn’t seeing much success. The one time my “Read” stats spiked was when something I submitted to a publication on Medium was published, but that didn’t result in any influx of new followers or other gains, so it wasn’t something I repeated.

“Get your posts added to publications” is often one of the key tactics offered to or by those looking to make a name for themselves on Medium. I continue to have issues with the idea of being so narrow in your thinking about success but understand it’s a byproduct of our platform-centric social media era where people are “YouTube stars” and “Instagram influencers” and so on.

The problem is that “get added to publications” seems to me to be just a new spin on the kind of gatekeeping model blogging was originally intended to disrupt and innovate around. Additionally, this whole idea of relying on platforms to help surface your material and help you win is one that’s rapidly being exposed for the pipe dream it always has been.

In both cases, you are putting your future in someone else’s hands. You may see a bounce in your stats when you submit a piece to a publication, but everyone else is doing the same thing. Your material still has to rise above the rest to be noticed, Not only that, but months ago I saw a popular writing-focused publication boot everyone out so it could start fresh. All the work people had done to be accepted as a contributor (which they weren’t paid for, btw) was undone. [shrug emoji]

Similarly, counting on a platform’s proprietary algorithm to aid in exposure is not and never has been a good idea. While everyone may crow about how much Medium is helping them now, what happens tomorrow? It’s a question I’ve often asked when discussing this topic, but it’s a question we have an answer for when we look at the outrage by YouTube and Instagram stars who feel they’re being censored because the platform has changed how material is displayed or altered the terms of their monetization agreements.

Just as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and other social networks have changed the deals made with creators on those platforms in ways that are often disadvantageous to those creators, it’s hard to believe Medium won’t do likewise. That’s especially true when you consider how often Medium has “pivoted” its business model and structure just in the last three years.

Staking your future to finding success on any platform you don’t own is never a great idea. It’s somewhat inevitable – even independent bloggers using their own hand-rolled sites are dependent on the whims of search to a great extent – but you can at least mitigate the risks.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Buying Something Almost Never Fixes The Actual Problem

While I’ve tried in recent years to mend my ways and embrace the non-consumer lifestyle, I’m guilty of more than a small amount of “retail therapy” in my time. I’ve done my fair share of feeling like an afternoon splurging on a couple funky t-shirts, some movies and an action figure or two (as an adult, of course) along with a soda and pretzel dog while I’m out would make me feel better. It always did…for the 20-minute drive home, at which point I wondered what the hell I was going to do with all this and why I felt it was necessary.

A recent story made me think about how the idea of “retail therapy” isn’t just applicable to mall binges. Viewed a different way, it’s also about how we’re asked to buy things *for* therapy or to otherwise fix some problem with ourselves or our lives.

That story talked about a company offering a special type of lens to help filter out the blue light and glare of a computer screen. Those lights are causing an increased level of eye strain among people who spend all day staring at screens of one kind or another.

That’s a real problem. WebMD specifically refers to Computer Vision Syndrome as a problem common among adults and students who work on computers or mobile devices and whose eyes are working hard as they focus and refocus from one media to another.

As with most things, though, beware of any company or industry that wants to sell you a solution to a problem it has created or exacerbates. The startup behind those special lenses isn’t the same one making computer monitors or mobile screens, but they now have a vested interest in the issue of eye strain not going away. They don’t want to fix the problem, they want to sell you a workaround.

That’s true in many industries, largely because fixing the problem often entails means not buying stuff. Or at least buying different stuff than what they’re trying to sell you.

Consider eye strain specifically. There’s the oft-cited “20-20-20” rule encouraging you to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes to refocus your eyes and given them a break. There’s also the simple advice to adjust your screen settings to be easier on the eyes by reducing brightness.

What I’ve begun to see is that the “buy this to fix that” mindset is the predominant message behind almost everything. What’s missed is that things like “pick up fast food on the way home from work” or “buy a new gadget to help reduce eye strain” are *results* of societal problems, not *solutions* for them. Fast food won’t fix your time crunch, it results from it. A gym membership won’t fix your sedentary lifestyle, it results from it.

But big industries can’t sell you actual solutions. Most solutions, in fact, involve not buying a darn thing. “Go for a walk” is free. And the big companies know it, which is why they still try to sell you things labeled as “essential” for doing so like scientifically-engineered shoes and moisture-wicking shirts. If you’re serious about this, they tell you, you need to do it only after buying a bunch of equipment.

I know for a fact, though, that you can go for a walk in a pair of cutoff shorts made from sweatpants that were falling apart anyway, a 10-year-old t-shirt you got free from a convention you went to and a pair of old gym shoes stained green because you also use them when cutting the grass.

The next time you see an ad or story hyping a new product positioned as the solution for some sort of problem, take a minute and consider whether or not whether or not it actually fixes the problem or simply mitigates it. Then ask yourself it the actual solution involves buying anything at all. The answer, I’m willing to bet, is “no.”

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Everybody’s Bundling

First it was Spotify Premium and Hulu being available for a combined $12.99 a month.

Then it was MoviePass and iHeartRadio offering a three-month combined package for $29.99.

Most recently it’s Comcast announcing Netflix will be part of a subscription package, though that’s technically just an expansion of an existing deal.

If I didn’t know any better I’d say we have a trend on our hands.

Spotify/Hulu seems to be a case of two companies hoping to draft off each other’s success in an attempt to convert more paid subscribers. I’d peg Hulu as the junior partner here despite it being the older company, hoping the $3 additional dollars people would pay on top of the Spotify Premium membership brings more attention to both its catalog and original programming.

MoviePass/iHeartRadio is the most suspicious of the pairings. The deal was announced before an analyst report saying MoviePass is hemorrhaging money but after iHeart declared bankruptcy. Again, iHeart is the one with more to gain from the deal since MoviePass, despite its financial issues and unsustainable business model, has been the subject of a lot of media buzz, most recently around its acquisition of Moviefone.

Comcast/Netflix appears to be more of a partnership of equals, which is saying something when one is part of a massive multimedia conglomerate and one is a single-play streaming video subscription service. The addition of Netflix to cable packages when Netflix’s business model is to disrupt traditional cable packages means Comcast wants to keep its enemies close, positioning it to the audience as just another premium cable channel.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

This Week Elsewhere – 4/20/18

The Hollywood Reporter

How ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Is Selling the “End Is Near” for a Neverending Series: As part of this big moment, the movie has also been billed as, to quote Marvel’s press materials, “the most ambitious crossover event in history.” While that claim has certainly provided a rich vein of material for memes and other ribbing, it’s also hard to argue with. Characters from all 18 MCU films will come together, bringing to the big screen the kind of crossover that comics fans always enjoy when the threat to the planet is too big for any one character or team to handle.

Both of those themes have been communicated throughout the marketing to varying degrees. Here’s how.

Cinematic Slant

Cinematic Slant is where I write about movies, including the campaign recaps I’ve been doing since 2004 along with other news and opinions.

I Feel Pretty – Marketing Recap: The poster is boring, the trailer a one-note gag that’s not funny. The website is uninspired. The whole thing just screams like the studio not only didn’t know how to sell the concept but was actively trying to ignore the movie as actually happening. Schumer is a funny comedian and actor, but this gives her nothing to do and seems to be actively working against her “accept who you are” message.

Cannes Needs Netflix More than Netflix Needs Cannes: It’s a remarkably short-sighted move. Not by Netflix, but by Cannes. Seeming to act at the behest of exhibitors upset that anything not projected onto a screen for a mass audience would be qualified as a “film,” Cannes has put itself firmly outside the innovation that’s happening in the media industry as a whole and the film industry specifically.

Pass Over – Marketing Recap: It’s too bad the movie isn’t getting a bigger push because it seems, sadly, all-too-relevant given recent reports of black men arrested in a Starbucks for no offense other than being black. That’s more or less, at least based on the marketing, exactly what the story is about.

MoviePass’ New Mission: Power to the People: MoviePass seems to have found common cause with studios, who for years have been waging war against Rotten Tomatoes even as the site itself is partially owned by Warner Bros. Hollywood has complained that negative ratings on the site have tanked their blockbusters, not seeming to realize (or care) that aggregating the reviews of outside critics isn’t the same as actively working against a movie.

Super Troopers 2 – Marketing Recap: t’s hard, though, to get past the fact that whenever given the chance the focus turns not to this new movie but to the old one. All of those video sizzle reels that revisit the original, the way the trailers are stacked with jokes pulled from the first movie…it’s enough to make you concerned that this one doesn’t do anything new.

The Solo Marketing Has a Beat You Can Dance To: Is this a trick being played by the trailer editors to create a sense of familiarity (humans feel comforted by beats because it reminds us of the heartbeat we listened to for nine months)? Probably. Is it a little bit of showing off by someone who thought they were super-clever? Also, probably. Doesn’t matter.

Kodachrome – Marketing Recap: The dynamic between Harris and Sudeikis is really the main value proposition displayed here. Sudeikis brings that same attitude of being a spring constantly on the verge of uncoiling he’s had in other films to add a spark to what otherwise seems like a story we’ve seen before about the burdens of carrying around the scars left by uninterested and absent fathers. Matching that is Harris, who offers his same effortless attitude to the interplay. The interplay between those two makes the underuse of Olsen all the more notable in a campaign that offers a kind of hangdog energy and charm to the audience.

He Tampered In God’s Domain: I’m not sure how Rampage deals with the actions of the scientists who create the monsters or dispenses judgment on their shoulders. What I do know is that in The Cloverfield Paradox the actions of those involved are dealt with just as surely, though possibly in different ways.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Mobile-Only? No. How About Better, Simpler and Faster

A recent contributed piece, which I won’t link to, on a prominent marketing blog by an industry “thought leader,” who I won’t name, encouraged marketers and brands to basically stop designing their websites for the desktop browser experience. Consumer behavior, he argues, has shifted such that we need to move beyond a “mobile first” mindset to a “mobile only” approach.

He makes some decent points. Consumers do indeed want more information to live and be available natively within the mobile experience. Mobile is playing a larger and larger role at all points in the buyer’s journey. Mobile sites are important as Google rolls out more changes that give preference on SERPs to sites that are mobile-friendly.

Where his argument falls down is where he states there’s this groundswell of frustration among people because they’re forced to switch between desktop web and mobile experiences, with the former being poorly thought out and difficult to navigate and the latter being the ideal on all fronts.

I’m honestly not sure how he gets anything done during the day. Then again, knowing who it is that wrote the piece, my thought is actually “He thinks this because he’s not actually responsible for doing anything all day.”

A 2017 study from showed how desktop web traffic plummets both after business hours and on the weekends. Basically, anytime people have the choice to switch back to their preferred mobile experience, they well. That’s great and publishers, retailers and other companies should absolutely take that into account when designing their conversion and readership paths.

Look at it from the other direction, though. The desktop web still dominates the vast majority of web browsing activity, especially during business hours. Desktop computers are still the technology more commonly provided to staff by employers, who assume that staff will bring their own preferred mobile devices with them.

Not only that but a recent study reported by NiemanLab states that people pay better attention to stories on the web than they do on mobile devices, which offer more distractions. There’s a case to be made, based on that, for continuing to prioritize desktop reading because it better serves the public good and is more useful to the audience.

It’s unquestioned that mobile is become more and more essential. That work-based productivity still happens on desktop machines, though, means that switching over to web design that puts mobile functionality first doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The more reasonable suggestion would be to say that publishers, retailers and other need to streamline and update their overall web experience, which has benefits for visitors on all platforms. That’s a goal worth getting behind because it has universal and long-lived value, unlike blind and reactionary knee-jerk adjustments to conform to your reading of a trend that only takes half the picture into account.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

When The Media Is Its Own Media

The other day Entertainment Weekly reported that its recent “Dawson’s Creek” reunion issue lead to a spike in viewing of the show on Hulu, which has exclusive streaming rights to the soapy romantic drama. I’m sure the intention behind the touting of its own influence (in addition to touting its own influence) was to have a feel-good last bite at the “Creek” apple, providing an amusing anecdote out the door.

When I read it I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a chill, though, as I saw our consolidated media future laid out in front of me.

One of the primary fears of watchdogs and critics who warn against too much ownership of TV stations/networks, websites, newspapers, movie studios, magazines and other media is that not only do the number of voices and perspectives shrink and become more homogeneous (as we’ve seen recently with Sinclair Media) but that those companies increasingly have a vested interest in promoting their own material. That promotion comes at the expense of an acknowledgement of the outside world, further tamping down competition by simply denying them oxygen.

If you’ve worked in some facet of the marketing industry for any length of time you’re likely familiar with PESO. The acronym stands for the four pillars of the media relations world: Paid (advertising), Earned (public relations), Social (social media) and Owned (websites/blogs). I’ve always preferred the more succinct PEM (Paid, Owned, Managed), but it’s not as catchy and I haven’t been successful at making it stick yet.

The original “Dawson’s” reunion story fell into the Earned category because no money changed hands but was the result of members of a media outlet working with publicity teams to craft a story, which appeared alongside other stories on other topics.

EW has certainly done plenty of stories like that one over the years, reuniting the casts of movies and TV shows to tell stories about the glory days, see how they feel about their work however many years later and so on. A story on “Dawson’s Creek” isn’t anything special.

The problems really come into focus when you account for distribution. Hulu is a joint venture owned in part by Disney, Fox, Comcast/NBCUniversal and Time Warner. In this case there are no apparent corporate conflicts because “Dawson’s” was produced by Sony, which isn’t involved in that platform.

But what if it were? What if the same company that owns the entertainment owns the news media that encourages people to consume the entertainment?

We don’t need to engage in hypotheticals because we have the perfect example already available to us: Disney. It’s used its corporate ownership of ABC to leverage both news programs like “Good Morning, America” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to promote a great number of the studio’s recent movies, especially franchises like the Marvel Studios and Star Wars films. The casts of The Force Awakens, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther and others have shown up for big promotional appearances, sometimes to debut new trailers or other marketing material.

There’s no question that these kinds of stunts and activities would have taken place somewhere, on some show, in any situation. Disney’s vertical ownership allows it to use those shows for its own purposes, depriving some other movie, show or other cultural artifact of space. If an average episode of “Kimmel” has space for say three things – maybe a movie star, a musician and a comedian – devoting an entire hour to the cast of Civil War means two less items the audience has been exposed to. They’ve been kept within the Disney funnel.

That’s why the looming launch of Disney’s OTT service represents the completion of the vertical chain, as this New York Times story points out. Right now the one link it doesn’t control is distribution and once it has that it can use its news assets to promote its entertainment properties available on its proprietary distribution service. PESO becomes obsolete for the company because everything is an owned or managed asset.

The repercussions of such a system should be as apparent as they are disturbing.

First, there’s little need to advertise in other media because you own and control so much of it. Other non-integrated media see ad revenue dry up even further because a very big player isn’t spending.

Second, existing distribution channels are now bringing a knife to square off against several armored divisions. Theaters disappear faster than they are because a big company isn’t providing very popular films, other streaming services have to work harder to make their case (see Netflix’s investment in original programming) and so on.

Third, the availability of placing earned media stories through public relations efforts becomes scant for competitors because the biggest outlets online, in print and on TV are all owned by a direct competitor with zero interest in promoting anything it doesn’t control.

This all may sound fairly benign – we’re just talking about TV and movies, right? – but the Sinclair Media flare up in recent weeks shows the same situation happening with hard news. Independent voices are being subsumed by media giants and turned to work in favor of the agendas and preferences of both corporations and their owners. In other cases such as the Gothamist/DNAinfo situation corporate owners have decided local, independent media is an annoyance that too often asks uncomfortable questions and exposes wrongdoing and so needs to be shut down entirely.

The media should, ideally, be a check on the powers of both government and business. The rules and regulations meant to support that adversarial role, from media ownership limits to the laws protecting net neutrality, have been decimated recently. That leaves us in a world where the press is working for the corporate and not the public good, a situation that has no realistic good outcome for society.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.