Pol­i­tics and the fu­ture of me­dia

The Insider - - JOURNALISM -

Few would ar­gue that we had a pretty tu­mul­tuous year in 2016, with Brexit, the refugee cri­sis and, of course, the US elec­tion. All of th­ese events have added yet an­other layer of com­plex­ity to the al­ready chal­lenged pub­lish­ing/news in­dus­try.

• The role of me­dia in the demo­cratic process is un­der at­tack.

• The trust fac­tor, ac­cord­ing to Gallup, is at an all­time low.

• The more in­ti­mate con­nec­tion be­tween the con­tent pro­ducer and con­sumer in so­cial me­dia has al­lowed peo­ple to by­pass main­stream me­dia al­to­gether — in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent of the United States.

• The ex­po­nen­tial ad­vance­ments in in­no­va­tion, while amaz­ing, can also be ter­ri­fy­ing for those who must adapt to the mas­sive and rapid changes we con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence in tech­nol­ogy and so­ci­ety.

The In­sider team wanted to ex­am­ine th­ese is­sues and take a deeper look into the fu­ture of me­dia. So a week af­ter the Jan­uary 2017 in­au­gu­ra­tion, we joined some of to­day’s most in­flu­en­tial thought lead­ers in jour­nal­ism, me­dia, tech­nol­ogy and the po­lit­i­cal sciences to dis­cuss how jour­nal­ism and me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions can stay ahead of the game in this volatile cli­mate.

I invite you to watch a con­densed ver­sion of the panel dis­cus­sion I had the honor to mod­er­ate in Washington, DC, which in­cluded:

Robert Costa

Na­tional Po­lit­i­cal Re­porter at The Washington Post

Rick Klein

Po­lit­i­cal Di­rec­tor at ABC News

Trevor Thrall

Se­nior Fel­low at the Cato In­sti­tute

Ash­ley Co­di­anni

Di­rec­tor of So­cial Pub­lish­ing at CNN

Kristen Soltis An­der­son

Amer­i­can Repub­li­can Poll­ster

Now check out th­ese post-event, one-on-one in­ter­views with two pan­elists to dis­cover their uniques per­spec­tives on a spe­cific set of crit­i­cal is­sues.

Rick Klein-Po­lit­i­cal Di­rec­tor, ABC News on…

…The role of main­stream me­dia, in­de­pen­dent/ al­ter­na­tive me­dia, and so­cial me­dia in the po­lit­i­cal and demo­cratic process in the 21st cen­tury.

I think it’s com­pli­cated — more com­pli­cated than ever be­fore. For those of us in me­dia, we need to pro­vide the big pic­ture for peo­ple and be­come a more trusted, au­thor­i­ta­tive voice on the things that mat­ter.

We have to be cog­ni­tive of the fact that there are more out­lets than ever. There’s more hap­pen­ing in so many parts of the world that af­fect peo­ple’s lives in un­pre­dictable, com­pelling, and in­ter­est­ing ways they never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. There are a lot of big forces in play.

I also be­lieve we have to cu­rate; we have to an­a­lyze. And most of all, I think we need to bring fo­cus to the things that mat­ter the most. Peo­ple are turn­ing to us to get ex­pla­na­tions for things and to un­der­stand what mat­ters in

a very noisy, of­ten very messy world. So­cial me­dia is a two-way street for us. It’s clearly an im­por­tant com­mu­ni­ca­tions tool for politi­cians, for ac­tivists, and for causes, to push things out. Pres­i­dent Trump has used it to great ef­fect. Pres­i­dent Obama used so­cial me­dia to get the word out, but I think Pres­i­dent Trump uses it in a slightly dif­fer­ent way.

It also gives us the op­por­tu­nity to see what’s hap­pen­ing out there. It’s an amaz­ing source of crowd-sourced in­for­ma­tion — video, pic­tures, thoughts, ideas, and news that breaks first on so­cial me­dia.

But I think it’s also im­por­tant to rec­og­nize the lim­its of so­cial me­dia. It isn’t ev­ery­body, it isn’t the whole coun­try and, it isn’t the whole world that’s us­ing so­cial me­dia at any given time. It’s an im­por­tant seg­ment and an in­tel­lec­tual seg­ment, of­ten far more than the au­di­ence. But we also shouldn’t be­lieve that ev­ery voter, ev­ery con­cerned cit­i­zen in the United States, much less around the world, is on his or her Twit­ter feed all the time.

…The ero­sion of trust

I get asked a lot about what it’s like to cover the White House where the pres­i­dent says that you’re the en­emy be­cause he doesn’t like you. That part of it ac­tu­ally both­ers me a lot less than the other part that I’ll get to in a mo­ment. Be­cause that be­hav­ior is just ev­i­dence of a nat­u­ral ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ship. They’re harsher words than oth­ers have used, and it’s not help­ful, but our job is still to cover this White House — to do our job, do it con­sis­tently, and to do it without fear or fa­vor.

There’s an­other piece of it where there are, in my mind, in­sid­i­ous ef­forts to cre­ate false sto­ries and un­der­mine trust in the me­dia, whether for clicks or money or for some­thing like that. It’s a big news phe­nom­e­non, which I think is le­git­i­mately a big prob­lem for us, be­cause we don’t have any­thing if we don’t have trust.

You need to have a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of what facts are and aren’t, and some kind of shared un­der­stand­ing of those facts if you’re go­ing to have a ba­sic democ­racy. It’s im­por­tant when we’re do­ing our jobs to main­tain those stan­dards. But it be­comes a lot harder with peo­ple out there ac­tively work­ing to hurt and to un­der­mine trust.

…Growth of dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tions de­spite the trust fac­tor

Peo­ple are in­creas­ingly look­ing for trusted voices. The num­bers of dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tions are still small com­pared to the past cir­cu­la­tions of news­pa­pers, much less the pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try. Adding a cou­ple hun­dred thou­sand dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tions for The New York Times and The Washington Post I think is ter­rific. And God bless them — that’s great jour­nal­ism. But don’t mis­take that for 330 mil­lion Amer­i­cans.

We all have to un­der­stand why peo­ple come to me­dia and un­der­stand our mission a lit­tle more. We don’t have the lux­ury of just dic­tat­ing from the top of ivory tow­ers about what to do. We have to be en­gaged with our au­di­ence. We have to de­liver to our au­di­ence on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. There are so many dif­fer­ent things out there, so many dif­fer­ent sources.

But I think the trusted ones will con­tinue to find a role for them­selves. And I think it’s im­por­tant for big news­pa­pers to main­tain the dig­i­tal rev­enue to keep them­selves afloat — keep re­port­ing afloat. And I think it’s great that they’re able to do it. We root for and hope for solid rat­ings at ABC News, in a sim­i­lar vein.

...The fu­ture of news – is it niche?

I don’t think there’s only one fu­ture of news. There is a fu­ture for niche-based news, but I still think there’s a fu­ture for the larger, broader com­mu­nity that net­work news or big na­tional news­pa­pers bring on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

It’s a bit of a twist of an an­swer, I re­al­ize, but I don’t think that there’s only one busi­ness model that can work. I think ev­ery pub­li­ca­tion and ev­ery me­dia out­let has to find its own. And there are ways to imag­ine the busi­ness model chang­ing in re­ally so­phis­ti­cated and in­ter­est­ing ways given the tech­nol­ogy.

To­day you can cut out the mid­dle­man and give di­rect ac­cess to peo­ple that have on­line pres­ences; there are just so many more ways for peo­ple to con­sume in­for­ma­tion than there was in the past.

…Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence’s im­pact on the fu­ture of jour­nal­ism

I think it will af­fect every­one dif­fer­ently. For some news or­ga­ni­za­tions it will be more im­me­di­ately and fun­da­men­tally im­pacted by th­ese things than oth­ers. We will all have to ad­just and find our own niche in this fastchang­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

I think the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is awe­some and awe-in­spir­ing. I hope that pro­duc­tive things come out of all th­ese var­i­ous pieces of the ex­per­i­ment. But I also don’t think that there’s one an­swer that works for every­one. It’s on ev­ery or­ga­ni­za­tion, ev­ery brand and, ev­ery in­di­vid­ual to find their own way to fit into the new land­scape.

…ABC News in this new land­scape

We’re known for our big broad­casts and our pro­grams that reach mil­lions of view­ers — strong en­ti­ties such as Good Morn­ing Amer­ica, World News Tonight, This Week with Ge­orge Stephanopou­los, and Night­line.

But I think just as im­por­tant as what’s hap­pen­ing at ABC News right now is what we’re do­ing with stream­ing video on our Ap­ple TV de­vices and our apps, the pod­cast­ing we’re do­ing, and the so­cial me­dia en­gage­ment. Our goal is to try to reach peo­ple in as many dif­fer­ent ways as they want to be reached.

And I think ev­ery news or­ga­ni­za­tion is do­ing that. My job is fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent than it was five years ago, ten years ago. The way that I di­vide my hours and the plat­forms that I’m pro­duc­ing for are dif­fer­ent and will be dif­fer­ent again in two years and five years from now, no doubt.

So we need to be, and are, evolv­ing along with the rest of the me­dia land­scape. And th­ese aren’t lin­ear evo­lu­tions mov­ing for­ward one step at a time, where you make a change, and sud­denly the broad­cast is dif­fer­ent. They’re grad­ual, and of­ten they’re very plat­form­spe­cific, where they look dif­fer­ent given dif­fer­ent ex­i­gen­cies, dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties, and dif­fer­ent plat­forms.

…Ad­vice mov­ing for­ward

I be­lieve that the same kind of rigor we bring to, say, cov­er­ing the White House, we need to bring to our think­ing about our jobs, about the me­dia land­scape, and rein­vent­ing the

dif­fer­ent pieces of the plat­form. We need to make sure our stan­dards are still as high as they can be. It’s a mat­ter of un­der­stand­ing the chal­lenges and be­ing clear-eyed about both the chal­lenges and the op­por­tu­ni­ties.

While some of it is about what makes it onto our air, I think more than that, it’s about who’s out there that’s do­ing re­ally in­ter­est­ing stuff. Is there some­thing we can learn from that? Is there a part­ner­ship we can build from that? Is there an as­pect of that type of cov­er­age that we can in­cor­po­rate into our cov­er­age? Is there some­thing new we can bring, that peo­ple may not read­ily see, but changes how we ap­proach sto­ries or in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing? It’s look­ing at new ways to evolve what we’re do­ing.

We need to look at that land­scape and re­mem­ber that it’s our job to learn from it, not just to be wowed by it. I know a lot of jour­nal­ists who read very widely about the me­dia; we like to know what’s out there. I just think we need to be as rig­or­ous as pos­si­ble in think­ing about what’s work­ing, what isn’t work­ing and what the best prac­tices are that oth­ers have across me­dia?

…The fu­ture of jour­nal­ism

When­ever I talk to the young jour­nal­ists, I have the same kind of com­ment for them, which is that this is an op­ti­mistic time for jour­nal­ism. The death of jour­nal­ism has been writ­ten many, many times over many gen­er­a­tions, and we’re still around. And in fact, it’s an in­cred­i­ble time to be do­ing what I do, and what we do. Be­cause there’s so many more op­por­tu­ni­ties that are out there for peo­ple.

The au­di­ence has shown a will­ing­ness, maybe even an ea­ger­ness, to con­sume in­for­ma­tion in dif­fer­ent ways and peo­ple are will­ing to ex­per­i­ment with it. And just think­ing through what can work in changes in con­tent and for­mat, there’s ac­tu­ally more ways to ac­cess ABC News re­port­ing than there’s ever been in the past. There will be even more in the fu­ture and I think that’s ac­tu­ally in­spir­ing.

Trevor Thrall - Se­nior Fel­low at the Cato In­sti­tute on…

…The role of main­stream me­dia, in­de­pen­dent/ al­ter­na­tive me­dia, and so­cial me­dia in the po­lit­i­cal and demo­cratic process in the 21st cen­tury.

One of the fun­da­men­tal un­der­pin­nings of this is that we’re in a tu­mul­tuous pe­riod both po­lit­i­cally, but also from a me­dia per­spec­tive. I think the roles are in flux for all th­ese dif­fer­ent plat­forms and out­lets. Things that used to be the prov­i­dence of main­stream me­dia are now in­creas­ingly be­ing nib­bled at around the edges or even in big bites by in­de­pen­dent me­dia out­lets — by on­line out­lets that have never been tra­di­tional print or TV out­lets. Then you even have blogs and small op­er­a­tions or­ga­nized by in­ter­est groups or so­cial move­ment groups start­ing to be­come im­por­tant places on the web for in­for­ma­tion and so on.

So, I think there’s not a short an­swer to what are their roles. I think they all do some of what you ex­pect me­dia to do. They all in­form peo­ple to some de­gree. They all mo­bi­lize peo­ple to ac­tion to some de­gree. Many of them, if not all of them frame is­sues for peo­ple to some de­gree. But, I don’t think it’s fair to just say this only hap­pens in one place and that only hap­pens in a dif­fer­ent place at this point.

…The ero­sion of trust

I think one of the num­ber one forces driv­ing a lot of the shift right now is the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of trust, of pub­lic trust in the me­dia. This has re­ally sent me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions scram­bling to fig­ure out how to regain that trust. Be­cause what used to be back 40-some years ago you had a news an­chor like Wal­ter Cronkite who could just end his news­cast with a phrase, “And that’s the way it was,” and peo­ple would take him at his word. Imag­ine some­one do­ing that now; it’s un­think­able.

The re­sult is that peo­ple are stop­ping pay­ing at­ten­tion, stop­ping buy­ing sub­scrip­tions, stop­ping trust­ing what jour­nal­ists have to say and turn­ing in­creas­ingly to other places to get in­for­ma­tion or maybe not both­er­ing to fol­low the news at all. I think that break­down of trust is one of the key things driv­ing change within the me­dia.

I think that has not only im­por­tant im­pli­ca­tions for the news me­dia as they try to fig­ure out how do we stay in busi­ness, how do we make money, how do we do our jobs, and ful­fill our roll for what’s at stake. But, ob­vi­ously it also has a huge im­pact on politi­cians and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers — peo­ple try­ing to get elected and peo­ple try­ing to con­vince the pub­lic to sup­port their poli­cies. If they can’t rely on steady at­ten­tion to the news, how are they sup­posed to do their jobs? How are they sup­posed to get elected? How are they sup­posed to ex­plain why they did some­thing?

Trump is re­ally an ex­treme ex­am­ple of this but politi­cians have in­creas­ingly, over the last cou­ple of decades, but in an ac­cel­er­ated fash­ion, looked for Twit­ter and other ways to get their mes­sage di­rectly to the peo­ple be­cause they just don’t trust the me­dia to do it for them any­more.

My sense is that peo­ple who ac­tu­ally fol­low the news on pur­pose, which isn’t every­one, but peo­ple who fol­low the news on pur­pose usu­ally have at least one place where they mostly trust what they’re see­ing.

Even if they don’t trust all of the words from the politi­cians they don’t like, I think there are places that peo­ple turn to get a sense of the ba­sic facts of the day.

But that is a place that is in­creas­ingly not ABC, NBC, and CBS in the United States. Maybe it’s not as of­ten The New York Times or The Washington Post. But, it is some­where.

In ref­er­ence to Pro­fes­sor Johnathan Ladd’s book, Why Amer­i­cans Hate the Me­dia and How it Mat­ters, that sug­gests that trust in me­dia is in­flu­enced by the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion at the time and the po­lar­iza­tion of par­ties, I think those are very rea­son­able ar­gu­ments.

I think the po­lar­iza­tion is some of the most ob­vi­ous ex­pla­na­tion for what we’re see­ing re­cently. But in ad­di­tion to that, I think un­for­tu­nately what we’ve seen since the 80s in the United States is a con­scious ef­fort by Repub­li­cans to shoot the mes­sen­ger. I think they fig­ured out at some point that at­tack­ing the lib­eral me­dia played well with their base. So they played on this. This has been a stan­dard cam­paign mind from the 80s on­ward and it’s work­ing.

Amer­i­cans don’t trust the press nearly as much as they used to, but if you dig into the num­bers

a lit­tle bit, the peo­ple who trust it the least are Repub­li­cans be­cause their lead­ers are telling them not to.

I think this started be­fore the po­lar­iza­tion, but it’s only ex­ac­er­bated it be­cause when you get this hos­tile me­dia ef­fect go­ing on where Repub­li­cans hate the me­dia and they don’t trust any­thing it says, they po­lar­ize. Democrats look at that and say, “Hey, you know I hate them for say­ing those nasty things about what I be­lieve to be the truth.” It’s help­ing things spin out of con­trol.

...The fu­ture of news – is it niche?

I’m go­ing to go out on a limb and say the an­swer is maybe. The for­mer ed­i­tor-in-chief of Wired magazine, Chris An­der­son, wrote a book, The Long Tail, about eco­nom­ics of the in­ter­net. One of the things he came out with was this idea that your goal should be to find 10,000 true fans.

If you have 10,000 true fans and they each pay you US$100 a year for your con­tent or for what you’re do­ing then you’re done. You have the free­dom to what­ever you want af­ter that be­cause you’re mak­ing US$1 mil­lion a year do­ing that thing.

I think that’s ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble on the in­ter­net in a way that’s much harder for a me­dia com­pany or con­tent com­pany to do in print or in broad­cast where it takes a huge amount of start-up cash to get go­ing. It doesn’t take you very much to get go­ing on­line. But if you’re com­pelling to a small au­di­ence of peo­ple that you know well, you can make a go of it.

That’s ob­vi­ously hap­pen­ing. The in­ter­net is full of busi­nesses, not just me­dia, but all sorts of busi­nesses that are do­ing that. The me­dia are get­ting onto this game. That’s hap­pen­ing. The ques­tion is, is that go­ing to be the way the bulk of peo­ple get most of their news? We’ve had the in­ter­net for quite a while now. In­ter­net news is a big thing for a lot of peo­ple. But still, for now th­ese peo­ple get most of their news from tele­vi­sion. It’s not clear to me that’s where the fu­ture lies in total. The other thing is if you look at the small or niche pub­li­ca­tions, maybe a top­i­cal fo­cus or a par­ti­san fo­cus, they are small. They don’t do a lot of in­de­pen­dent re­port­ing. They don’t do a lot of en­ter­prise jour­nal­ism in terms of gen­er­at­ing raw data about news. They have to get news from some­where else first, to then do what­ever it is that they’re go­ing to do to add value to their anal­y­sis or some kind of deep think, or what­ever it is.

I think what we’re head­ing to­wards is a var­ie­gated me­dia land­scape. We’ll still have a small num­ber of the big play­ers like the As­so­ci­ated Press, the Times, the Post, and the Jour­nal who do the col­lec­tion and the first pass. Then you have a re­ally neat, hope­fully great va­ri­ety of or­ga­ni­za­tions at that next level us­ing that as raw ma­te­rial and then putting what­ever on top of it that they want to for their own au­di­ences. I do think that’s hap­pen­ing. I’m just not sure ex­actly where peo­ple are go­ing to get what kinds of news and in­for­ma­tion down the road.

…Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence’s im­pact on the fu­ture of jour­nal­ism

I’m re­minded of Dou­glas En­gel­bart, who in­vented the graph­i­cal user in­ter­face for the com­puter. He pointed out that what com­put­ers are good at is putting hu­mans in a po­si­tion to think. Think about how long it used to take to crunch data to even come up with even just a sim­ple graph be­fore

com­put­ers or be­fore Ex­cel spread­sheets. It took you a long time to do that. All of that was sort of point­less en­ergy be­cause what you re­ally needed was the graph. It was only once you had the graph that you could fig­ure out the an­swer to what­ever ques­tion it was. Is some­thing go­ing up or down? I need the graph. Well, it’s taken me hours to gen­er­ate the graph. The com­puter does it for you in sec­onds. In a real sense, tech­nol­ogy is help­ing jour­nal­ists do the lit­tle stuff quicker so they can spend more time think­ing hard about the hard stuff, and spend­ing more time on the in­ter­est­ing, deeper stuff.

Some­thing that you can get a com­puter to do quickly is not some­thing that you should re­ally pay a hu­man to do. It’s sort of wasted money. I’m hope­ful that a lot of this in­ter­est­ing ma­chine learn­ing, Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence, and au­to­mated con­tent gen­er­a­tion stuff is go­ing to help news or­ga­ni­za­tions spend less time do­ing easy stuff and more time do­ing hard stuff, like fig­ur­ing out which ques­tions to ask and what sto­ries to write in the first place.

Mo­bile ac­cess on your mo­bile de­vices and cool new plat­forms for en­gag­ing with in­for­ma­tion on­line are do­ing the same for con­sumers of news. One great ex­am­ple is how some news web sites now al­low you to en­gage with a news story on pub­lic opin­ion polling by ac­tu­ally us­ing fil­ters to slice and dice the poll num­bers that they’ve come up with. What they’re do­ing is putting you in a po­si­tion to think more quickly and more ef­fec­tively than you could have be­fore just read­ing a plain old news story on a piece of pa­per.

I’m very bullish on tech­nol­ogy im­prov­ing the news gath­er­ing, news writ­ing, and news con­sum­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

I guess there’s a po­ten­tial dark side. It’s okay if ro­bots take a few jour­nal­ists’ jobs, but when ro­bots start read­ing the news for you, you’re in trou­ble. ;) I do think the one down side is that tech­nol­ogy is also what’s mak­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns and fake news eas­ier and cheaper as well. I just saw some­thing to­day, I think it was in the New York Times, look­ing at Trump’s top Twit­ter fol­low­ers. I think three of the top five or ten are bots — sim­ple scripts even I know how to write. What’s that do to the qual­ity of in­for­ma­tion en­vi­ron­ment? It’s too early to tell.

…Ad­vice mov­ing for­ward

One of the things that frus­trates me a lot about the ar­gu­ments we have about cur­rent events and news cov­er­age is that un­for­tu­nately the pace of events and the depth of a news story en­cour­age us to fo­cus only on what’s hap­pen­ing right now. Un­for­tu­nately, the news in the mo­ment is never the full story about an is­sue. Al­though it’s im­por­tant to know what’s hap­pen­ing now, you re­ally won’t un­der­stand this is­sue fully, what­ever it is, un­less you’re also read­ing history about th­ese is­sues to get some

per­spec­tive and con­text.

I want jour­nal­ists to have a sense of the history for the ar­eas they write about be­cause some­times peo­ple get a lit­tle breath­less, say­ing, “Oh my gosh, this never hap­pened be­fore.” But, if you’re a lit­tle older, you rec­og­nize that those things have hap­pened a few times be­fore. And you re­al­ize that the im­pli­ca­tions of cur­rent events are not al­ways ob­vi­ous, and of­ten take time to emerge. Good jour­nal­ists re­al­ize this and can help us by pro­vid­ing both his­tor­i­cal con­text and fol­low up.

As a news con­sumer, history is crit­i­cal be­cause, again, if a jour­nal­ist doesn’t have time to give you per­spec­tive, it would be nice if you have your own sense of his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive to fil­ter the news through. We de­pend on the me­dia to help scrub the words and data we get from the world, but each of us has to be our own fi­nal critic and in­ter­preter of the in­for­ma­tion we re­ceive.

…The last word

I think I’d just em­pha­size some­thing we talked about up front, which is how much change and evo­lu­tion we’re go­ing through right now with news and tech­nol­ogy. I think peo­ple who are in charge of mak­ing news or us­ing the news to sell their prod­ucts, I think every­one needs to con­tinue to hold onto their hats and pre­pare for an­other five or ten years of ex­treme ex­per­i­men­ta­tion be­fore we fig­ure out the right way to do any­thing.

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