The im­pacts of tech­no­log­i­cal and so­cioe­co­nomic changes on me­dia

The Insider - - CONTENTS -

Ear­lier this year, af­ter PressReader’s Workshop at the TED 2017 con­fer­ence in Van­cou­ver, Drew Ogryzek of The Van­cou­ver Tech Pod­cast http://www.van­cou­vertech­pod­­lay-mal­yarov-and-david-uberti sat down with David Uberti of the Columbia Jour­nal­ism Re­view (CJR) and my­self to dis­cuss some of the hot top­ics keep­ing me­dia ex­ec­u­tives awake at night, in­clud­ing the ef­fects of so­cioe­co­nomic change on jour­nal­ism, me­dia con­sump­tion, and much more.

Here’s a con­densed tran­script of the full pod­cast.

Drew: Wel­come to episode 74 of the Van­cou­ver Tech Pod­cast. I have a cou­ple of amaz­ing guests with us here today —­thor/david-uberti/ David­thor/david-uberti/ Uberti, writer for Columbia Jour­nal­ism Re­view and Niko­lay Mal­yarov, Chief Con­tent Of­fice, at PressReader. David tell us about your­self and why you are here in Van­cou­ver.

David: I’m a staff writer for a mag­a­zine called the Columbia Jour­nal­ism Re­view in New York, where we do a mix­ture of me­dia re­port­ing and me­dia crit­i­cism. I came to Van­cou­ver to par­tic­i­pate in a great event hosted by PressReader, where we talked with a lot of peo­ple out­side of the in­dus­try about how to ap­proach some of the re­ally ex­is­ten­tial prob­lems within me­dia and tech­nol­ogy today.

Drew: Very cool. So there’s quite a few things that we’d like to drill down with you re­gard­ing that, but be­fore we do, Niko­lay, thank you very much for be­ing http://be­­cou­ver-tech-pod­cast-ep-64-niko­lay-mal­yarov-of-pressreader/ back on. Tell us a lit­tle bit about PressReader, about your role there, and about what this event was all about.

Niko­lay: PressReader is a place where peo­ple go to dis­cover, read, dis­cuss and share news that mat­ters to them from trusted sources around the world. Apart from be­ing a minia­ture ver­sion of the United Na­tions by virtue of the cul­ture that we built in the com­pany, PressReader is mov­ing in so many di­rec­tions that I wear two hats. I over­see the con­tent side of the com­pany in terms of build­ing re­la­tion­ships with pub­lish­ers be­yond sim­ply dis­tribut­ing con­tent, and

I’m also Gen­eral Coun­sel for the com­pany. PressReader is an amaz­ing com­pany and I’ve been with it for 14 years now.

Drew: A lot of very in­ter­est­ing changes have hap­pened in tech­nol­ogy, print and dig­i­tal me­dia in the last 14 years. What was this event that was go­ing on that brought peo­ple all the way from New York City?

Niko­lay: TED it­self ob­vi­ously re­quires no in­tro­duc­tion. But this was the first time that the TED or­ga­niz­ers de­cided to hold work­shops in be­tween the ses­sions that are tele­vised and broad­cast around the world.

We were in­vited to host one of the work­shops which was about break­ing the news and its fu­ture. We de­cided to style it as a minia­ture hackathon, which was in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult con­sid­er­ing the time con­straints that we had.

We had an hour and a half for the whole ses­sion and although we had a pre-reg­is­tered au­di­ence, we didn’t know who they were. We had zero un­der­stand­ing as to what their level of ex­per­tise was in the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try. So we had to start from scratch and give them the lay of the land on the in­dus­try. Nat­u­rally there were cer­tain in­ter­ests that these peo­ple had in terms of con­tent dis­tri­bu­tion, trust in con­tent, the con­tent that they choose to con­sume, and the new mod­els that are evolv­ing out of the changes that are hap­pen­ing in the in­dus­try.

This mini hackathon was de­signed to get peo­ple talk­ing about so­lu­tions for the chal­lenges that the in­dus­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. We in­vited three ex­perts from the field

(one of whom was David) who are very knowl­edge­able about the three spe­cific chal­lenges we posed to the au­di­ence.

We were look­ing at the vi­a­bil­ity, cre­ativ­ity, and sus­tain­abil­ity of their so­lu­tions — not for a pie in the sky, but some­thing that could be im­ple­mented fairly quickly. So our ex­perts helped fa­cil­i­tate the con­ver­sa­tions of our six groups of at­ten­dees as they dis­cussed

their as­signed prob­lem, help­ing to an­swer ques­tions and field ideas that had been pre­vi­ously ex­plored but lacked longevity. Drew: Okay, David, let’s hop back to you. Tell us a lit­tle bit about Columbia Jour­nal­ism Re­view, what that is, and your part as a staff writer.

David: We are a mag­a­zine, and by mag­a­zine I mean we’re a web­site and print prod­uct; plus, I host a pod­cast called ‘The https://itunes.ap­­cast/the-kicker/id1178127323?mt=2 Kicker’. I write a weekly news­let­ter for our mem­bers in our com­mu­nity and ba­si­cally it’s a mix­ture of me­dia re­port­ing and me­dia crit­i­cism. We an­a­lyze news cov­er­age and the nar­ra­tives that em­anate from news cov­er­age, but also cover some of the trends that are driv­ing fi­nan­cial change or eco­nomic change within the in­dus­try. That could be any­thing from con­sump­tion habits to the ad­ver­tis­ing side of things.

One of the things that’s changed for us, par­tic­u­larly over the last year since the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, is that there’s been a very much re­newed pub­lic in­ter­est in the so­cial good that is jour­nal­ism — what jour­nal­ism should be and what role it plays within so­ci­ety. Not only are we try­ing to hold me­dia in­sti­tu­tions ac­count­able, but also act as a sort of am­bas­sador for jour­nal­ism, what jour­nal­ism should be, and com­mu­ni­cate that mes­sage to a larger pub­lic out­side of the me­dia in­dus­try.

Drew: So I’m not sure if this is a side ef­fect, but a very in­ter­est­ing thing about Trump’s elec­tion and the process, I think, is that it seems to have got­ten a lot more peo­ple in­ter­ested in and talk­ing about politics. Have you found that to be true and what sort of chal­lenges has this brought up within the me­dia in­dus­try?

David: He’s cer­tainly the most po­lar­iz­ing sub­ject of jour­nal­ism that I’ve ever come across. Peo­ple are ei­ther diehard Trump fans or they’re diehard anti-Trump fa­nat­ics. I think it presents some chal­lenges for jour­nal­ists. We sort of ad­here to this ideal of ob­jec­tiv­ity — this idea that you’re walk­ing the mid­dle ground be­tween po­lit­i­cal poles. You have this fig­ure who’s so po­lar­iz­ing that it re­ally makes it dif­fi­cult to find that mid­dle ground.

I would say that it also pro­vides us an op­por­tu­nity to po­ten­tially forge a new path ahead. Ob­jec­tiv­ity has al­ways been the ideal, but it’s some­thing that we can’t ac­tu­ally at­tain. So I think now we’re see­ing jour­nal­ists and peo­ple who are lead­ing me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions in­creas­ingly look to­ward how they can be fair to­ward their au­di­ence, up­front with their au­di­ence, and es­tab­lish some sem­blance of pub­lic trust in many cases where that has at­ro­phied.

Drew: You also men­tioned crit­i­cism about news and news pub­li­ca­tions. We see some in­ter­est­ing things of­ten in satir­i­cal con­texts, but how do you go about han­dling that in a re­port­ing style or con­text?

David: Crit­i­cism is an in­ter­est­ing beast. You have to con­sume a lot of me­dia and have in­ter­nally very clear north stars of what jour­nal­ism should be. At our pub­li­ca­tion we have a cer­tain set of ob­jec­tives that we’d like jour­nal­ism to ac­com­plish, best prac­tices and what­not. I think what’s emerged since the elec­tion in the United States is a lot of in­tro­spec­tion from the Amer­i­can me­dia in par­tic­u­lar.

You do have some re­cep­tion among main­stream jour­nal­ists to reeval­u­ate their role and to look at sto­ries that they’ve cov­ered or longer trends of cov­er­age and reeval­u­ate whether or not that’s good, whether they’re fall­ing into traps of both sides-ism or ad­her­ing to neu­tral­ity when they should have a harder edge.

Drew: Is un­bi­ased jour­nal­ism a thing?

David: It’s an ideal, but I don’t think it ac­tu­ally ex­ists. I think ob­jec­tiv­ity is like this in­ter­nal mythol­ogy that we’ve re­ally been us­ing for decades. In a pre­vi­ous era of mass me­dia you were try­ing to shoot for the mid­dle with the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple, ba­si­cally try­ing to be cen­trist, one way or an­other. Now with so much choice within the me­dia mar­ket, I don’t think that you could build a vi­able model strictly off of down-the-road jour­nal­ism. Even if you have pub­li­ca­tions such as The Wash­ing­ton Post and The New York Times, they sell them­selves as neu­tral ar­biters of truth, but in re­al­ity what they are sell­ing to their au­di­ence is a par­tic­u­lar world view and a par­tic­u­lar set of ideals that they hold as an in­sti­tu­tion.

Drew: And that’s okay?

David: Yeah, I think that’s per­fectly fine. I think the im­por­tant thing from my per­spec­tive is that pub­li­ca­tions and in­di­vid­ual jour­nal­ists are up­front about their own per­sonal per­spec­tive, their own bi­ases. I think we’re at this his­tor­i­cal in­flec­tion point where we’re mov­ing away from this no­tion of ob­jec­tiv­ity, more in the di­rec­tion of jour­nal­ists say­ing, “Hey, this is where

I’m com­ing from. This is the ev­i­dence, I’m go­ing to lay out for you, but also this is my con­clu­sion.”

Drew: That’s quite dif­fer­ent from how jour­nal­ism was por­trayed in the past. Why do you think that is? What’s caus­ing this change? Does that seem to be the trend?

David: I think it’s mostly a so­cioe­co­nomic change. You have ob­vi­ously huge, huge trends within con­sump­tion habits. Peo­ple are mov­ing from print me­dia to­ward dig­i­tal me­dia. They’re mov­ing from lin­ear TV to­ward more on-de­mand video. I think there’s so much choice within the mar­ket that peo­ple are nat­u­rally go­ing to grav­i­tate to things with which they iden­tify. Whether that’s a po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion or whether that’s their per­sonal iden­ti­ties or cul­tural af­fil­i­a­tion.

I think we’re at an in­ter­est­ing spot right now where there are op­por­tu­ni­ties to build busi­ness mod­els by cul­ti­vat­ing a tar­geted, fo­cused au­di­ence that all share a set of com­mu­nity ideals. We’re see­ing some in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in that re­gard. Ob­vi­ously legacy news or­ga­ni­za­tions can’t nec­es­sar­ily do that be­cause they’ve estab­lished a brand on a cer­tain set of prin­ci­ples. It’s an in­ter­est­ing train to nav­i­gate.

Niko­lay: Now, nat­u­rally the more con­tent you con­sume that is in sup­port of your po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions, the more of that con­tent you will see as you en­gage with other read­ers who are in that same cham­ber.

Drew: I’d love to hear your feed­back on that, Niko­lay. How does PressReader’s role fit into that that equa­tion? And do you no­tice, from your per­spec­tive, that a lot of jour­nal­ism is some­what be­com­ing opin­ion pieces with ar­gu­ments, show­ing the facts as be­ing pre­sented and the con­clu­sions that they’re com­ing to.

Drew: This sounds to me like you’re say­ing there is a de­lib­er­ate and a con­scious ef­fort to en­sure that for a PressReader user, if there are top­ics that he/she is in­ter­ested in, then their feed is not just full of the par­tic­u­lar bi­ases that they might sub­scribe to; but rather it tries to show some amounts of both sides and then it’s up to the user to de­cide what to ac­tu­ally read.

Niko­lay: That’s ab­so­lutely true. And on top of it there are a num­ber of other fea­tures in the prod­uct that put the user into the

en­gage­ment cy­cle with other read­ers. And that en­gage­ment cy­cle will in­evitably lead to some sort of a de­bate on the is­sue. Drew: A bit of a philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion... How im­por­tant is that, even lead­ing into that de­bate? Is there some part that might think that it might be com­fort­ing to think that yes, we’re pro­vid­ing both sides? But is that enough?

Niko­lay: That’s a deep one. We have a few in­ter­nal mantras at PressReader. One is that, “It’s just the be­gin­ning.” And the other, “It’s never enough.” So if I were to sit here and tell you that, “It’s enough”, I’d be ly­ing.

The rev­o­lu­tion that we have gone through in the past two decades has al­lowed us, as in­di­vid­u­als, un­prece­dented ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion. That’s re­ally what’s fu­el­ing the progress for us as a so­ci­ety.

Think of Google and what it means be­yond be­ing a search en­gine. Googol a num­ber; it’s 10 to the 100th power — ba­si­cally in­fin­ity. And that’s what con­tent is — in­fi­nite. More and more con­tent is go­ing to be pro­duced which cre­ates an­other set of dif­fi­cul­ties for new me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions that are try­ing to en­ter the space. How do they make them­selves stand out in the crowd? How do they build the trust with the read­ers? Drew: Now David, I’d like to ac­tu­ally ask you kind of the same ques­tion but maybe phrased a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently. In jour­nal­ism, un­der­stand­ing that we have our bi­ases when we’re re­port­ing things and po­ten­tially over­com­pen­sat­ing by point­ing out the other sides that could be there, is that enough? We can of­ten feel safe per­haps that we’ve done so, but is that not also point­ing out or cre­at­ing a bias in an­other di­rec­tion or only a twosided story po­ten­tially?

David: Right. An in­ter­est­ing case study came about dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in the United States and im­me­di­ately there­after. It’s al­most be­come a meme within the Amer­i­can me­dia com­mu­nity of send­ing re­porters out to the mid­dle of the coun­try to talk to the mythic Trump voter who is a hard-on-his-luck Demo­crat who used to work in the fac­to­ries where NAFTA screwed him out of his job in the 1990s.

There’s been story upon story lay­ing out these in­di­vid­u­als, and they’re all true sto­ries. But it does ac­cen­tu­ate a cer­tain seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion to the detri­ment of other seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion; so I do think there can be over­com­pen­sa­tion in one way or an­other to charges of bias.

I think for jour­nal­ists it’s very im­por­tant for them to be self-aware about what their mo­ti­vat­ing ideals are and how to ac­tu­ally go about that in a very straight line. Drew: For sure we’ve men­tioned fact as be­ing im­por­tant, but when we con­sider per­spec­tive in con­junc­tion with fact we can of­ten see that there are many sides to sto­ries. Some­thing that Wikipedia, I think, has done a very in­ter­est­ing job of open­ing up who is re­spon­si­ble for cu­rat­ing fact. That sort of tries to give a lot of per­spec­tive or abil­ity to have per­spec­tive. Of­ten­times you find in the dis­cus­sion page a lot of in­ter­est­ing things go­ing on. I was re­ally sur­prised in look­ing into some com­puter sci­ence or lin­guis­tics books and go­ing into the dis­cus­sion be­hind things on Wikipedia to find the au­thors some­times hav­ing these dis­cus­sion there. They are peo­ple who def­i­nitely care about these top­ics very deeply. Sure some­times there’s mis­in­for­ma­tion. Do you see as a kind of de­cen­tral­ized

model for con­tribut­ing to in­for­ma­tion, as be­ing some­thing more that we’re go­ing to­ward?

David: I think we’re there al­ready. If you spend time on Twitter or Face­book you’ll see a de­moc­ra­tized in­for­ma­tion en­vi­ron­ment one of the ideas of the early in­ter­net. But I think you will al­ways need jour­nal­ists, peo­ple who are ded­i­cated to cut­ting through that noise. There’s so much in­for­ma­tion that’s over­load­ing us from ev­ery di­rec­tion now that I think it be­hooves us as a so­ci­ety to sup­port peo­ple who re­ally think about these ques­tions in a very crit­i­cal way.

Drew: Al­most like elect­ing some­body to do re­search for us.

David: Yeah, cer­tainly.

Niko­lay: Look at the printed pub­li­ca­tions in the past. The ed­i­tor was the cu­ra­tor of that con­tent. That was his job or her job. As con­sumers we paid money to the ed­i­tor to pro­duce the con­tent; we trusted that ed­i­tor to pub­lish the con­tent that would be of in­ter­est to us.

I think with the Wikipedia ex­am­ple you’re bring­ing up is an in­ter­est­ing point of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment…

Drew: Maybe cre­at­ing its own echo cham­bers?

Niko­lay: Maybe so, yes. Again that cre­ates an­other set of prob­lems, but as part of the hackathon today at TED we looked at so­lu­tions to in­dus­try chal­lenges and there have been a num­ber of so­lu­tions that ac­tu­ally fo­cused on com­mu­nity en­gage­ment.

At the last pod­cast we talked about a oneway com­mu­ni­ca­tion that ex­isted in the past be­tween the jour­nal­ist, the pub­lisher, and their au­di­ence, and ob­vi­ously that doesn’t work today. How do you en­gage with your read­ers be­yond sim­ply pro­vid­ing them an abil­ity to com­ment? There are some re­ally, re­ally clever ideas — ideas that the judges thought were the most rel­e­vant, the most ap­pli­ca­ble, and the most sus­tain­able. We’ll fea­ture them in the next is­sue of The In­sider on PressReader. Drew: How do things like trusted news sources ver­sus false news play into all of this?

David: Just for some back­ground, trust in me­dia, pub­lic trust in me­dia is at an all-time low de­pend­ing on what poll you look at, but trust in par­tic­u­lar me­dia in­sti­tu­tions re­mains high. So I do think that while peo­ple in the United States at least dis­trust “the me­dia”, there is some iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with cer­tain out­lets which I think is im­por­tant and those out­lets need to main­tain.

I think one of the down­sides of this broader trend of de­moc­ra­tized in­for­ma­tion (the in­ter­net) is that it does al­low peo­ple, who have ill in­ten­tions or just don’t have train­ing or don’t ad­here to jour­nal­is­tic prin­ci­ples, to put in­for­ma­tion out on the in­ter­net very eas­ily.

That can travel very wide very quickly. So in terms of them hav­ing that abil­ity, the ben­e­fits cer­tainly out­weigh the down­sides, but there are down­sides. We see that with things like fake news or any other mis­in­for­ma­tion you see on­line.

Drew: Now is that very dif­fer­ent from what we’ve seen his­tor­i­cally?

David: I don’t think it’s par­tic­u­larly dif­fer­ent, other than the de­liv­ery mech­a­nism. I think the fact that we do have these tech plat­forms that have such large scale, it al­lows this mis­in­for­ma­tion to travel far­ther and wider and faster than any­thing we’ve ever seen be­fore.

Niko­lay: The im­me­di­acy of its im­pact and a vir­tual in­abil­ity to counter that im­pact later

on is an is­sue. We talked about pub­lish­ers try­ing to be first over be­ing fac­tual and how so many have got­ten into this habit of try­ing to break the news story first, with­out re­ally ver­i­fy­ing it — cre­at­ing a snow­ball ef­fect by prop­a­gat­ing the same piece of in­for­ma­tion, which would later be proven to be un­true.

Ob­vi­ously there are a num­ber of tech plat­forms that are try­ing to ad­dress that with ei­ther la­bel­ing the story that ap­pears to be not-quite-fac­tu­ally based, but it is a chal­lenge that we need to ad­dress.

Drew: Does it mat­ter if the pub­li­ca­tions are fac­tual, are true? How does it mat­ter? Why does it mat­ter? When we say some­thing’s fac­tual I think that we want to be­lieve that this it’s true, and we want to have the best per­spec­tive around it. But I don’t know that we can ever know with 100% cer­tainty that what we’re see­ing is true and from a per­spec­tive that is the only per­spec­tive or the truest per­spec­tive, or from all per­spec­tives that en­com­pass all truth for ev­ery­one for­ever. What we have, at best I guess, is a sub­set of pos­si­ble truths around the facts and per­spec­tives.

Niko­lay: Maybe it’s a slightly naïve way of think­ing, but I would think that for us to be a pro­gres­sive so­ci­ety, we need to be an ed­u­cated so­ci­ety. You can only be­come an ed­u­cated so­ci­ety if you are ex­posed to facts around which you can draw your own con­clu­sions, should you choose to.

Now, you can ar­ti­fi­cially limit the num­ber of facts that you’re ex­posed to, ei­ther your­self or by virtue of some sort of a con­trol, but I don’t think that’s a so­ci­ety that we strive to be. I have dif­fi­culty imag­in­ing a so­ci­ety that lives with­out ac­cess to facts. Maybe I shouldn’t have dif­fi­culty, given some coun­tries that ac­tu­ally live in that realm.

Drew: Last time you were on the show I think we talked a lit­tle bit about fact and how when you start to add com­plex­ity to it be­comes very dif­fi­cult to prove. I think we said if there are 10 peo­ple, it’s rel­a­tively easy to prove. You could have a cam­era. Maybe you can have mul­ti­ple cam­era points and kind of show the con­text.

But then when you say some­thing like they are to­gether, what does that mean? Are we now show­ing in­tent? They’re protest­ing against some­thing. Those kinds of things start to be­come more and more dif­fi­cult to prove with­out hav­ing fur­ther back­ground knowl­edge. But I think of­ten, and maybe I’m wrong here, when we are show­ing fact it is lead­ing to opin­ion. I think now maybe we’re more open about that and say­ing, “We have a con­clu­sion. As jour­nal­ists we’re try­ing to lead some­where.” Is that the case or am I miss­ing that? Is that a good thing? And then how fac­tual do or should we be?

David: I think that’s cer­tainly true. If you were to look at news­pa­pers or news pro­grams from 50 years ago, they would have a much more stan­dard, who, what, where, why ap­proach to news. Now just given the fact that we can get so much in­for­ma­tion about break­ing news events in­stan­ta­neously on­line, jour­nal­ists have to add value through their anal­y­sis.

Now if you look at a news­pa­per, it’s not who, what, when, where, why, it’s ‘so what’? Why should we be car­ing about this? It’s a more an­a­lyt­i­cal per­spec­tive and it in­her­ently opens the reader to the jour­nal­ist’s per­spec­tive and then the jour­nal­ist in turn to their read­ers’ crit­i­cism of that per­spec­tive — which is a big so­cial change that we’re still try­ing to fig­ure out.

I think it’s def­i­nitely good that we’re mov­ing in that di­rec­tion but it’s a ques­tion also of how jour­nal­ists frame that, how they present that to the au­di­ence say­ing that, “Hey, this is my

bias, up­front. “This is where I’m com­ing from and this is how I got to my con­clu­sion.” I feel like right now we’re sort of in the cen­ter of these two dif­fer­ent eras in that re­spect, and we don’t re­ally know quite how to deal with that.

To your broader ques­tion about why it mat­ters whether it’s true…

If you look at the Amer­i­can elec­tion, Don­ald Trump told a very good story. He said ba­si­cally the sys­tem was rigged, and there’s in­her­ent truth to that. But if you were to ac­tu­ally look at the facts of whether he had a plan for that, whether that he was the right guy to tackle that ques­tion, there are a mil­lion other facts that point to the no­tion that he’s not the right per­son to pur­sue that per­ceived mis­sion. So, I think in the Amer­i­can elec­tion, at least, we had a sit­u­a­tion where a bet­ter story over­came facts and a lot of the pub­lic de­ci­sion mak­ing. Which I would ar­gue led to a bad po­lit­i­cal out­come.

Niko­lay: He not only man­aged to tell the story, but man­aged to tell the story in the most ef­fec­tive way by go­ing straight to the peo­ple that he was try­ing to reach — go­ing with the mes­sage that was per­haps so far out of line, so far out of the prover­bial norm, that it would get the ex­tra cov­er­age on main­stream me­dia be­cause, “Ooh, he said this or he said that.” It was that con­tin­u­ous spin of the sto­ries that were planted through these di­rect-to­con­sumer chan­nels like Twitter that gave him that ex­tra cov­er­age. Drew: His­tor­i­cally jour­nal­ism and news me­dia pub­li­ca­tions have acted a lot as fil­ters for in­for­ma­tion, whereas now there are a lot of di­rect lines. So I guess that begs the ques­tion, do we need these fil­ters and should we, as peo­ple, ac­tu­ally take more re­spon­si­bil­ity? I guess we do with what we choose to read and what­not, but should we be ac­tively seek­ing these fil­ters?

David: I think gen­er­ally speaking news lit­er­acy is hor­ren­dously low and that’s some­thing that we need as a so­ci­ety to ad­dress. I also think that news con­sumers need to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for fil­ter­ing their own in­for­ma­tion di­ets, so it’s a lit­tle bit health­ier than it cur­rently is. But I also think from a jour­nal­is­tic per­spec­tive that the role is chang­ing a lit­tle bit. We’re not speaking from on high to our au­di­ence. There’s a good ar­gu­ment to be made now that, just given the amount peo­ple are able to par­tic­i­pate on­line, that jour­nal­ists should slide into the role of dis­cus­sion leader as much as they are this ar­biter of truth. Which I think can be a very con­struc­tive thing.

In our dis­cus­sion this morn­ing for ex­am­ple, we had a lot of back and forth with peo­ple that are not in the in­dus­try, which I think moved all of us col­lec­tively ahead. I heard things that I’d never heard be­fore. Peo­ple in the au­di­ence heard things that they had never heard be­fore from within the in­dus­try. So I think hav­ing that role of lead­ing dis­cus­sion and try­ing to proac­tively seek out en­gage­ment from peo­ple is more in the di­rec­tion that we’re mov­ing now. Drew: Now you’re say­ing leader but I’m for some rea­son kind of read­ing be­tween the lines and hear­ing fa­cil­i­ta­tor. Is that right?

David: Yeah, I think that’s a fair char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. I think when I say leader or fa­cil­i­ta­tor I mean you need a per­son who spends time think­ing about ex­actly how to struc­ture this, how to do this in the best way to have the most con­struc­tive out­come. Ob­vi­ously you can dif­fer in the de­tails of how to ap­proach that, but I do think that it’s help­ful to have some­one who has some sem­blance of ex­per­tise or some pre­vi­ous knowl­edge that will help guide the dis­cus­sion in the right di­rec­tion.

Drew: How has the new for­mat of tech­nol­ogy and life and me­dia changed the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween me­dia, jour­nal­ists, and the pub­lic?

David: There’s a lot more in­stan­ta­neous feed­back, for bet­ter and for worse. For ex­am­ple, I get a lot of re­ally great reader email, just based on what I’ve writ­ten. Peo­ple email me back and I tend to try to pub­lish those things when I can, just to have a reader roundup, be­cause I like to have that give and take.

On the other hand, and you saw this a lot over the last year or so, there is a lot of tar­geted ha­rass­ment to­ward jour­nal­ists who write things that dis­please peo­ple, which is a huge thing that we need to ad­dress. That ob­vi­ously ex­tends far be­yond jour­nal­ism too. Ev­ery­one has had in­ter­ac­tions with trolls on­line and there’s a big troll cul­ture and we don’t re­ally know quite how to han­dle that. But I do think for jour­nal­ists, par­tic­u­lar fe­male jour­nal­ists, par­tic­u­larly Jewish fe­male jour­nal­ists, they do face a lot of that on­line and it’s re­ally fright­en­ing in some cases.

Niko­lay: This is spot on. We did talk about how the mono­logue era of jour­nal­ism has ended, and that does give op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­gage with read­ers, should you choose to en­gage with them. And that’s a big should, be­cause not ev­ery­body does choose to do that.

I think the fa­cil­i­ta­tor char­ac­ter­i­za­tion is an in­ter­est­ing one be­cause I al­ways thought that jour­nal­ists al­most have a higher mis­sion in so­ci­ety — they ed­u­cate so­ci­ety. Ci­vil­ity in com­mu­ni­ca­tion is one of those el­e­ments that forms part of that ed­u­ca­tion.

But there is still that hu­man na­ture feel­ing that, “Oh well, since I’m do­ing it from my phone or from my com­puter, no­body will know who I am.” So maybe this is what we need to talk about. Guess what? Ev­ery­thing that you do is known to ev­ery­one who needs to know — from level of your IP ad­dress to your de­mo­graphic data — and there is a lot that can be done with it.

What you say on­line does mat­ter, not in a way that will sti­fle the con­ver­sa­tion or im­pede peo­ple’s free­dom of ex­pres­sion in any way, but be­cause you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily say those things face to face. Peo­ple have a very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive when they’re sit­ting on the other side of the screen. Drew: There are so many other top­ics I’d love to ex­plore with, but we’ll have to save those for an­other time. Thank you both again very much for be­ing on this episode of the Van­cou­ver Tech Pod­cast.

I think as a me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion you need to ask your­self these ques­tions, “What do you want to get out of this en­gage­ment? What is your mis­sion in terms of reach­ing these read­ers — these con­sumers of the con­tent that you cre­ate?”

Do you care about the read­ers? Be­cause if you do, then I’d say that en­gage­ment is the only way for­ward. But if you don’t care and your po­si­tion is still from the dark ages where, “I’ll pro­duce the con­tent, you read and do what­ever you want”, then there is an ex­piry date on that model.”

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