True jour­nal­ism is not dead if you know where and how to look for it

The Insider - - JOURNALISM -

Socrates once said, “The un­ex­am­ined life is not worth liv­ing.” When I look at the ram­pant pro­lif­er­a­tion of pro­pa­ganda, mis­in­for­ma­tion, li­bel, sen­sa­tion­al­ism, and fake news (lies, hoaxes, or “al­ter­na­tive facts”, any way you want to call it) in mass me­dia to­day, I can’t help but think that if Socrates were alive to­day, he’d add, “… and un­ex­am­ined news is not worth read­ing.”

It’s easy to sit back and point the fin­ger at main­stream me­dia as the cul­prits of the com­post we’re see­ing on­line, but that’s not only un­war­ranted, it’s ir­re­spon­si­ble.

A re­cent study funded by The Coral Project — a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Mozilla — ver­i­fied what we’ve in­tu­itively known for a long time. Peo­ple to­day want to be part of the con­ver­sa­tion with jour­nal­ists and ed­i­tors.

I have al­ways be­lieved that to be true de­spite some pub­lish­ers muz­zling their read­ers by block­ing com­ments, but I also be­lieve that priv­i­lege comes with a price. If you want to be in­volved, you bet­ter start tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for your role in fact-check­ing what you’re read­ing, com­ment­ing on, and shar­ing.

Now I know what you’re go­ing to say… If it’s all of our jobs to “ex­am­ine” the news, how can we do that with the sheer vol­ume of con­tent that bom­bards us ev­ery day — most of it crap? How can we pos­si­bly be ex­pected to take the time to ver­ify “the facts” with our con­tin­u­ally de­creas­ing at­ten­tion spans?

Here are a few sug­ges­tions…

1. Think twice be­fore shar­ing con­tent vet­ted by fol­low­ers and friends who have not pro­vided any in­di­ca­tion that they ver­i­fied it prior to hit­ting Send/Like.

I re­al­ize that it is hu­man na­ture to see con­tent that comes from friends and fam­ily with the as­sump­tion that it’s valid and ap­pro­pri­ate to pass along. Af­ter all, you don’t want to be per­ceived as some­one who’s not on top of the hottest break­ing news. But just like you, your friends and fam­ily are hu­man too and can be caught up in the vi­ral­ity that fake “newsers” ex­ploit with catchy or jaw-drop­ping head­lines.

By not ex­am­in­ing ev­ery story be­fore you share it, you are let­ting your ego trump your in­tel­lect and rep­u­ta­tion. And you know what they say about egos… “Pride goeth be­fore the fall” — Proverbs 16:18

And there’s an old Rus­sian proverb that also warns, “A word is not a spar­row. If it flies out, there is no way to catch it.”

So think twice be­fore fall­ing into the trap of shar­ing what your friends and fol­low­ers have posted. If some­thing smells fishy, it prob­a­bly won’t take long be­fore it re­ally starts to stink. And if you’ve en­gaged with it and shared it, and added to the frenzy, you won’t be able to wash your hands of it later.

I know it seems harm­less to­day, but the bread­crumbs left on the dig­i­tal high­way by your im­pul­sive­ness can and do lead to some­thing I wit­ness ev­ery day at work — ur­gent re­quests for le­gal ex­punges.

2. Don’t normalize the ab­nor­mal.

A May 2016 Pew Re­search Cen­ter study re­ported that 62% of Amer­i­cans get news on so­cial me­dia (44% specif­i­cally from Face­book). But ac­cord­ing to Mark Zucker­berg, “Of all the con­tent on Face­book, more than 99% of what peo­ple see is au­then­tic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.”

But con­sider this be­fore think­ing that 1% is just a drop in the bucket. Ev­ery day, there are ~40 mil­lion tweets on Twit­ter, plus 4+ bil­lion mes­sages, and ~6 bil­lion “Likes” posted on Face­book. I am sure you will agree that ~100M fake news posts/likes on Face­book alone is still far too many to ig­nore, es­pe­cially when we see how so­cial me­dia has as­sim­i­lated it­self into our lives, re­la­tion­ships, work, com­mu­ni­ties, and the demo­cratic process it­self.

The power of so­cial me­dia is a won­der­ful thing to be­hold IF So­cial Me­dia (it’s me­dia, af­ter all) = a free press by the peo­ple for the peo­ple. But it can also be ter­ri­fy­ing be­cause it gives the un­scrupu­lous the power to cor­rupt, con­trol, and ac­tu­ally al­ter the course of history through the spread of hoaxes, lies, and dis­in­for­ma­tion.

One of the things that struck me as any­thing but nor­mal last year was the treat­ment of fake news by the gen­eral pub­lic. In­stead of recog­nis­ing it for what it was — total garbage — peo­ple treated it like it was le­git­i­mate and worth shar­ing.

When I saw the stats, I as­sumed (or, in quest for an ac­cept­able ex­pla­na­tion, hoped) that peo­ple weren’t able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate true jour­nal­ism from fab­ri­ca­tions. But if Pew’s De­cem­ber 2016 sur­vey of 1,000+ US adults is cor­rect, it would ap­pear that most peo­ple knew full well that they were prop­a­gat­ing fake news on Face­book.

“Con­tent de­signed to ma­nip­u­late and mis­lead is not nor­mal and, de­spite all of the re­cent de­vel­op­ments, should never be nor­malised. In­stead it must be called out by every­one who be­lieves in the truth. It must be shunned and shut down so it can­not in­fil­trate the me­dia and con­tinue its ero­sive at­tack on the fourth es­tate and all it stands for.”

That begs the ques­tion, “Do peo­ple un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of their ac­tions? Or has fake news be­come so com­mon — so “nor­mal” — that it has lost its abil­ity to ap­pall us?”

Con­tent de­signed to ma­nip­u­late and mis­lead is not nor­mal and, de­spite all of the re­cent de­vel­op­ments, should never be nor­mal­ized. In­stead it must be called out by every­one who be­lieves in the truth. It must be shunned and shut down so it can­not in­fil­trate the me­dia and con­tinue its ero­sive at­tack on the Fourth Es­tate and all it stands for.

3. Choose news sources that have earned a rep­u­ta­tion for qual­ity jour­nal­ism.

Time is a pre­cious com­mod­ity and with our di­min­ish­ing at­ten­tion spans, it’s now more im­por­tant than ever to sep­a­rate the wheat from the chaff by fo­cus­ing what lit­tle at­ten­tion span we have on qual­ity con­tent, true jour­nal­ism.

Un­for­tu­nately, most sur­veys on trust in me­dia present a dis­heart­en­ing pic­ture. In a Gallup poll late in 2016, trust in me­dia reached an all-time low, mak­ing one won­der if qual­ity jour­nal­ism is dead.

No, it is not! Mis­trust in “mass me­dia” is high, of that this is no ar­gu­ment, but don’t jump to any hasty con­clu­sions about the state of jour­nal­ism. If this study by YouGov in De­cem­ber 2016 tells us any­thing, it’s that not all me­dia is cre­ated equal.

News­pa­pers and mag­a­zines that have been around for gen­er­a­tions have worked hard at gain­ing the trust and loy­alty of their au­di­ences. Even with some hic­cups along the way, the same YouGov study (no­tably, post-US Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion) showed that the ab­so­lutely ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans still trust in the news­pa­pers.

An Au­gust 2016 Me­quoda study also re­ported that more than 2/3 of US adults ac­tively read print mag­a­zines, magazine au­di­ences grew by ~7% and dig­i­tal magazine spend­ing in 2015 in­creased by 52.7%.

Loy­alty in mag­a­zines re­mains high be­cause of the qual­ity of both ed­i­to­rial and ad­ver­tis­ing con­tent (per­haps due to the “Vogue Ef­fect”).

So it’s no sur­prise that most pub­lish­ers be­lieve that the dis­tri­bu­tion of less-than-ac­cu­rate news will ac­tu­ally strengthen their po­si­tion on­line.

Qual­ity con­tent is still at­tract­ing qual­ity au­di­ences — some­thing we at PressReader have never doubted in the 18 years we’ve spent in the pub­lish­ing sec­tor.

What started out as a dig­i­tal news­pa­per and magazine kiosk in 2003 which grew to over 6,000 pub­li­ca­tions, the ser­vice evolved into a me­dia-rich so­cial plat­form that ad­dresses the unique needs of mul­ti­ple au­di­ences. To­day, PressReader of­fers both a dig­i­tally-en­hanced replica view for tra­di­tional news lovers and a more fluid, stream­ing view of ar­ti­cles for dig­i­tal na­tives, ag­gre­gat­ing con­tent from all of the sources in a more per­son­al­ized, more tar­geted, more rel­e­vant, more en­gag­ing way.

But we knew that pre­sen­ta­tion and con­tent weren’t go­ing to drive rev­enues for pub­lish­ers given that the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are not will­ing to pay for news on­line, par­tic­u­larly in English­s­peak­ing coun­tries.

So in or­der to grow both reach and rev­enues for our pub­lish­ing part­ners, we de­vel­oped a con­sumer-fo­cused con­tent dis­tri­bu­tion net­work in the hos­pi­tal­ity, trans­porta­tion, tele­com, and li­brary sec­tors — busi­nesses that pay for ac­cess to the most re­spected pub­li­ca­tions in the world on be­half their ~300M cus­tomers and pa­trons.

But, with PressReader’s vast quan­tity of qual­ity con­tent, it was also im­por­tant for us to en­sure a seam­less and fric­tion­less dis­cov­ery mech­a­nism for the high­est en­gage­ment lev­els for in­di­vid­ual read­ers — a ma­jor un­der­tak­ing!

Us­ing be­hav­ioral an­a­lyt­ics gen­er­ated in real-time by PressReader’s pro­pri­etary Read­ing Map tech­nol­ogy PressReader con­tin­u­ally mod­i­fies its newsfeed based on the abil­ity of in­di­vid­ual ar­ti­cles to re­tain the at­ten­tion of other read­ers. In this sense, our au­di­ence acts as a global ed­i­to­rial board that de­cides what qual­ity is and what it is not — pro­mot­ing high-value con­tent, pre­clud­ing fake news from ris­ing to the top and en­cour­ag­ing en­gaged con­ver­sa­tions around con­tent.

As a re­sult of this al­go­rithm and the qual­ity of our au­di­ence, we have largely avoided the is­sues of trolling and abuse on the plat­form. Sure, we have some, but pro­por­tion­ally it is a very small num­ber.

Truth and trust are two-way streets

2016 was a tu­mul­tuous year for many peo­ple, not the least of which were those in main­stream me­dia. Tar­nished with a broad-stroked brush that pun­ished the many for the sins of a few, legacy me­dia (or “main­stream me­dia,” as it is re­ferred to by some) jour­nal­ists faced con­tin­ual ha­rass­ment from those who’ve never walked a mile in their shoes. It’s lit­tle won­der why some (def­i­nitely not all) made the mis­take of try­ing to be first over be­ing fac­tual in their panic to garner page views and shares. It was costly in terms of their rep­u­ta­tion and the trust read­ers had in the Fourth Es­tate.

But 2017 is an­other chance to start again and we’re al­ready see­ing changes, start­ing with The New York Times’ 2020 strat­egy which shifts fo­cus away from quan­tity and page views to qual­ity, rel­e­vance, and deeper en­gage­ment with reader. The jour­nal­ist com­mu­nity is also step­ping up to the plate with a re­newed com­mit­ment to regain the trust of the peo­ple — start- ing with an open let­ter to Don­ald Trump from the US Press Corps.

“We will set higher stan­dards for our­selves than ever be­fore. We credit you with high­light­ing se­ri­ous and wide­spread dis­trust in the me­dia across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. Your cam­paign tapped into that, and it was a brac­ing wake-up call for us. We have to regain that trust. And we’ll do it through ac­cu­rate, fear­less re­port­ing, by ac­knowl­edg­ing our er­rors and abid­ing by the most strin­gent eth­i­cal stan­dards we set for our­selves.”

Now it’s our turn. We all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to be ad­vo­cates for the whole truth and sup­pres­sors of lies, hoaxes, “al­ter­na­tive facts” mis­in­for­ma­tion and pro­pa­ganda. In 2017, let’s make a com­mit­ment to seek out and sup­port qual­ity jour­nal­ism and shun that which is not. And, let’s help those who strug­gle to dif­fer­en­ti­ate facts from fiction, be­cause as Brendan Ny­han, a pro­fes­sor at Dart­mouth Col­lege said, “Stand­ing up for facts is a kind of pa­tri­otic act, and a nec­es­sary one.”

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