Monday, October 26

Journalists don't do game theory

Does game theory work in the news media business?

According to Saturday's Toronto Star, the Obama administration recently offered an interview with a senior official to all major national news outlets (CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS) except Fox News. Fox News has a reputation for having a strong-right wing bent, favouring Republicans over Obama's Democrats.

Game theory would tell us that (assuming the interview was worthwhile to do) the other networks should have done the interview. But the networks banded together and stood up for Fox by declining interviews.

Why didn't the game theory predictions work in this case? My guess is that camaraderie among journalists is a big reason. The article suggests that it was the Washington bureau chiefs of each network that made the decision, not the network head honchos in New York. While the head honchos may be worried about the network's bottom line and might have preferred to do the interview, individual journalists are usually paid by salaries and not stock options.

Moreover, journalists working the same stories tend to get to know each other and become friendly. The Washington reporters are at the same scrums. They probably kill time together waiting for politicians to show up for press conferences. They probably share their analysis of the latest political documents. They probably co-ordinate on questions and split cabs and go for lunch together on occasion. So when one of your friends get screwed by the Obama administration, you stand up for him -- even if it's not the profit-maximizing decision for your employer.