Networks were ready to cover this loss with profits from other departments as news was important, and they were fulfilling the social function of keeping the public informed of current events. This state of affairs was even legislated, as news outlets had to provide a certain amount of real, objective reporting alongside their more sensationalist stories.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996
In past few decades, broadcast media, and television news programs, networks have changed greatly. Changes have taken form of deregulation, like the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated media ownership, leading to current state of affairs where few huge corporations own majority of broadcast media outlets to which general public has access.
Additionally, news outlets are now able to carry as much tabloid-style news as they like, and are under no obligation to provide objective reporting or to cater to what the public ought to hear.
News for Profit
The effect of deregulation can be seen every day across news media. Dedicated news networks are notorious for tailoring the news they offer to specific target audiences, giving every story they run a blatant political spin and choosing to air only news items that fit with their audience's worldview.
News programs on major networks are no longer loss leaders, but are instead designed to make a profit by getting ratings, meaning that they often run sensationalistic news stories or use language and visuals that are flashy, exaggerated, and intended to catch the attention of an ever-more-restless public.
On internet, this type of news reporting is more apparent: there are sites for only the news visitors want with nothing they don't want. Even formerly respectable news outlets like newspapers, frequently run sub-par pieces on their websites so they can get more viewers, and more ad revenue.
Such people argue that if the public isn't interested in "important" news, such as current world events or political developments, no one has the right to force such information upon them. Free market fanatics claim that the market is itself a regulatory body, and the onus is upon news outlets to make news both important and profitable.
Are Americans Getting Dumber?
On the other side of the debate are those who claim that the news media, by focusing on turning a profit, has become increasingly a source of entertainment only, geared toward providing instant gratification to an audience that doesn't necessarily care what's important in any objective sense.
The argument runs that this trend is dumbing down American audiences, training people not to care about politics or current events, which makes way for governments, corporate entities, and even the media itself, to get away with things that never would have gotten public approval back in the age of oversight.
Has deregulation left a void of information that is to be filled with a new, responsible news source, savvy to the changing technological climate? It's not clear if people would choose good news if they could, but there's a glut of entertainment news outlets. Perhaps a high proportion of socially responsible news outlets would change the landscape again.